Barcelona, the city of my youth. The city where I settled for 6 years at the tender age of 22 years and experienced a life of mischief, fun, gastronomic delights, sweet love, life-long friendships, marcha, juerga, fiesta – totally unforgettable experiences. It was a six year holiday interrupted 5 days a week with something called teaching – long hours of teaching, including evening tutoring to bring in enough pesetas to live my holiday in the sun!
Life in Barcelona in the 80s was a thrill. The vibrant city screamed ‘live life to the full’. And that’s exactly what I did. Tapas, vinos, discos, Costa Brava night life, Costa Brava long daytime beach naps, all year round suntan, Sitges, Las Ramblas for people watching, open air concerts – Supertramp, Genesis, Lou Reed, Elton John, OMD, Police, Tina Turner, to name a few, winter skiing, love and romance and my beloved moped!! Oh the moped! A one saddled bicycle with an engine to weave through traffic and avoid the jammed early morning buses that we had to catch to get to work each morning. It was also helpful to zoom down back streets to avoid the traffic of the busy city and very often carrying two people, which made it very uncomfortable for the back seat passenger, believe me!
I worked at Oak House School. At the time it was a relatively unknown private bilingual school for Spanish children. Today it is a very successful, well-known private school in the Sarrià district of Barcelona and has grown massively in size to the point that on my last visit in January this year, there was very little left of the school I once knew but I suppose that is what we call progress.
There were naturally many unfamiliar faces but there were also some wonderfully, welcoming familiar faces of friends and colleagues from ‘back in the day’ that burst into smile and delight when I arrived. We ate lunch, chatted non-stop, laughed, wondered, burst into laughter, cries of “Ah! Si, si, claro, me accuerdo …….” when reminiscing on the glory days of Oak House, recalling stories and memories that have been hidden in the back our minds for 30 years just waiting to see the light of day again. And there among the older faces were the grown up faces of children I once taught who were now working at the school or dropping off their children at the same gate they were left at some 30 years ago!
What a trip down memory lane! But this is something I am prone to. I LOVE the past. I adore meeting up with friends from a different era in my life, I enjoy visiting the places where I once lived and wonder in the changes that have occurred over the years. What is wrong with a touch of nostalgia? The past is what has made my present and will have an effect on my future. Why would I want to forget it, the people the places, the sounds the smells? Remembering the past doesn’t hold me back. I live my life forward, but sometimes I think about the past, and I find it comforting. It makes me feel happy, thankful, it makes me laugh and makes me sad. I appreciate the roots that were planted back then and which will continue into my future. It makes me feel good and I gather strength from my past to move forward.
The city has changed and it hasn’t changed! It has developed immensely, the biggest changes made to accommodate the Summer Olympics in 1992. The port is unrecognisable and there’s a beach!! How did that get there? The area of Sarrià has completely changed. I wouldn’t know how to get to work anymore!!
The road into the city from the airport has altered and the network of roads in and around the city are all unfamiliar. My favourite area, known as Las Tascas where I spent some wild and wonderful hours, no longer exists, as were many other memorable sites, and that was a massive stab to the heart, but the smells, the atmosphere, the life, the heart of the city, the vibrancy, the people …….. they are unchanged. Barcelona has caught up with the times, it has opened its doors to a flood of tourists, it is more modern, cosmopolitan, more people speak languages other than Spanish, there are shopping malls to compete with the once empirical El Corte Inglés, the parks, the buildings, the streets have been cleaned up. Gaudi has sprung to life! The Parque Güell, my stomping ground to get rid of a hangover on a Sunday morning back in the early 80s and overlooked by me when I had visitors, as in the ignorance of my youth I was more focused on bars, restaurants and the beach than some dusty park with a few mosaic-like statues and lots of dust, has now been cleaned up and brought to its full glory! You even have to pay to get in!! It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, too, and is quite magical . Why didn’t I see it this way back then?? Other buildings have also been cleaned up and are quite majestic in appearance these days all adding to the attraction of the city. The Las Arenas, bull ring in Plaza España is now a shopping mall. The last bull-fight took place there in 1977 and was used as an outside concert hall during my years there. La Monumental continued to hold bull fights into the 90s but it is now empty and waiting to be renovated, no doubt into another mall.
But the bars, tapas, food, cakes, narrow streets, lanes, markets etc are all still alive and well. Estupendo!!
The Barrio Gotico is as beautiful as ever and for me, must be visited at Christmas time. It gets cold, but not for long. But cold, blue-skied sun-filled days are bearable, enjoyable and acceptable. And being retired, I can now visit any time!!