Before I came to Barcelona, I had a picture in my head of what it would be like. I'm a pragmatic realist by nature, but I'll admit the scene was laughably idyllic: Despite its reputation as a bustling metropolis, I imagined a Barcelona made of sleepy, tree-lined neighborhoods, cobblestone streets and quaint cafes filled with stylish urbanites, old artists and happy, colorful children. I knew it was silly, imagining the merchants busy early in the morning, spraying down the sidewalks and singing to themselves as they set up shop carts of fresh flowers and produce and warm focaccia. Pretty hilarious, really. In the real life Barcelona, the merchants have actual store fronts instead of carts, and of course, they aren't really merchants -- they're just regular people working in retail. I haven't heard any of them singing yet, and their corrugated metal doors are often pulled down, revealing a tapestry of graffiti covering the neighborhood before 9 and after 5 during the week and all day on Sunday. Regina says scooter traffic and bar noise keep her up at night, as does the guy above me who sings pop music in the voice of a passionate, operatic tenor, usually late into the evening.
All of that said, in the real Barcelona, the streets of La Grácia actually are sleepy and tree-lined and peppered with quaint cafes that all look and feel just like I imaged them. The architecture is quintessentially European and the shops, which are more often than not actually the size of carts, are beautifully stocked with flowers, produce, books and high end, aromatic tea that wafts like potpourri out onto the sidewalk. There's even a Focacceria on my morning walk to the metro.
Every few blocks, the narrow streets of La Grácia open up to one of 10 plaças (like a small town square), each dedicated to this or that historic figure or event or architectural landmark:
- Plaça Joanic
- Plaça de la Virreina
- Plaça del Nord
- Plaça del Diamant
- Plaça de la Revolució de Setembre de 1868
- Plaça del Sol
- Plaça Rovira i Trias
- Plaça Rius i Taulet
- Plaça del Raspall
- Plaça de John Lennon (No, I'm not kidding)
Today, Regina and I drink cafe con leche and watch a live jazz concert at Plaça Rius i Taulet. It is a breezy, sunny day and the square is filled with urbanites, old artists and happy, colorful children. It is a perfect Sunday afternoon.
If my imaginary Barcelona is a 10, La Grácia is an actual, real life 8 on the euro-charm scale. Its good to see idealism realized every once in a while.