La Mercè: Part 2

IMG_0418As I’ve mentioned in early posts, the lack of separation between work and life is striking here. Colleagues relating as friends, without the pretense and awareness of roles and professional boundaries is, for me, utterly profound. My boss, Eva, invites me out on Thursday, offering to serve as my tour guide for the first day of the festival. It’s sort of last minute (Wednesday afternoon, in fact) and I’m a little anxious knowing I’ve already made plans with Amanda; my neighbor, Regina; two new interns, Justin and Anna; and a guy from Arizona called “Sony”, who we met at a café last night. I explain this to Eva and she assures me of her modus operandi: the more the merrier.

At noon on Thursday, we meet up with Eva at La Colmena, which appears to be one of Barcelona’s landmark patisseries. Eva quickly introduces Marta, who it turns out was a key player in the evolution of La Mercè in the early 1970s, after Franco was overthrown. Marta, a self-described housewife at the time, was instrumental in introducing a host of Catalan cultural events into the festival, marking a milestone for La Mercè – and for Barcelona – in reclaiming its Catalan heritage after years of suppression/oppression by the dictator. It’s almost two hours later when I realize Marta is Eva’s mother.

Again, with the dumb luck. We simply couldn’t have asked for two better hostesses. Eva and Marta lead us through the packed streets of Ciutat Vella, "the old city", deftly guiding us to the most important events of the day. Marta uses her long-established connections at City Hall to escort the group behind-the-scenes to a catered, terrace view of the festival’s most coveted event: the Castellers ("human towers"). In the midst of thousands of Barcelonans and European tourists, its almost embarrassing.

From the Castellers to the Cathedral de Santa Maria de la Mar, to the Roman ruins beneath the city to the convent marred with bullet holes which pay homage to the cruelty of a firing squad set there during the Spanish Civil War, we see the festival and enjoy a fascinating history lesson at the same time. We eat lunch, then tour Barceloneta, a quaint barrio near the ocean, its apartments so small that families set up make-shift living rooms on the sidewalks, where they spend much of their time.

By the time the day ends, following mojitos at a beach-side café and a jazz concert in the park, Eva has generously devoted 10 hours to me and my friends. We have talked a bit of politics and history, seen pictures of her kids, heard stories of her recent divorce and a recent Survivor-esque vacation in the mountains of Vermont. She has paid for everything, despite our protests. I have little doubt this is not a business expense.

Thank you to Eva and Marta for your gracious hospitality. May I soon have the opportunity to pay it forward.