A mountain of chaotically stacked stuffed toys in the window of Gratacos...spotted after an intercambio de idiomas. 

December 13th, 2013, 1am

I’ve been in Barcelona for about 2 years now. I remember arriving and being haunted by the feeling that I was going to get “stuck” in Barcelona. Unlike most of the tourists that wander through Barcelona slack jawed with awe, I hated it upon arrival. I thought it was too big, then too small, too complicated and then, too simple. Two years on, I’m in love, and I’m leaving.

The other night, when I took this photo I was walking home tipsy from an intercambio de idiomas, a language exchange. My intercambio is a guy in his early 30’s, handsome in a generic kind of a way. He’s engaged in sport the way a lot of people in Barcelona are: absolutely. He runs miles every day and rides his bike all over the Catalan countryside on the weekends.

I met him through a photographer at a party hosted by a rich ex-pat. I was transfixed by the photographer’s work: pictures of expensive homes neatly laid out in a coffee table book. He started explaining the stories in Spanish, then, when I fumbled my response switched to near perfect British accented English. “How long have you been here?” He asked. When I admitted I had been in Barcelona for two years he laughed, took my business card and started sending me potential intercambios. “It’s my mission,” He declared grandly, “That you cannot leave without speaking Spanish.”

He sent me about 7 and I picked my current intercambio mostly because I liked his last name. Valdez. It sounded like it belonged to an explorer.

The first couple of meetings with my intercambio were awkward, but we get along. His English is much better than my Spanish but he explains things carefully, precisely and with enthusiasm.

We met up after work, had dinner and then drinks. I was sick with a runny nose, but by the end of it I had forgotten I felt bad. He told me that he used to work in a bank in a small Catalan town when he was younger and was in charge of giving mortgages. The experience broke him: the town was so small he couldn’t buy bread without someone asking him a question about a loan they needed.

I walked home to sober up and found myself contemplating as I have many times before how surreal Barcelona feels. It feels less like a city than it does a dream pretending to be a city. Time passes strangely, if at all.

Just as I was thinking this I passed Gratacos, a fancy fabric store which resides at the top of Barcelona’s most exclusive, posh street: Paseo de Gracia. I saw the stuffed animals, which were trying to look festive and thought it might be a good time to start using Hi. Hi will help me remember Barcelona, I thought, and how impossibly beautiful it is.

(Don’t think these stuffed animals are beautiful? For one: I need to figure out how to take better pictures, but that aside the charm for me here lies in how random they are. Barcelona is full of art, some of it accidental, some of it attempting to look accidental and this is part of what I love about it as a city: it’s self conscious meta-coolness).

Craig said thanks.

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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