This week as I careered through Barcelona centre juggling a silly schedule; work, doctor’s appointments, children’s birthday preparations (you know how it is; we are all busy right?) I was surprised to find myself with an imposed hour between appointments (the doctor needed me to wait). I was delighted and as I had a book I headed off to find a park to sit in. As I wandered the district, it was not one that I knew at all, I felt my eyes opening and my brain switching on. I glanced up at the buildings and started to notice the life going along around me. I went into a little cafe bar frequented by some older gnarly looking men who looked as if they had lived their lives under the sun or out at sea; men who had worked hard and lived. I ordered a coffee and was greeted by their chorus of approval at my Spanish (I am obviously a “guiri”). I stopped to chat protesting that it should be better after four years and that I should also be speaking Catalan. We laughed and talked and I took the time, as every chat is an essential intercambio in my eyes!
I then left the bar and headed to the park with a smile on my face reflecting on how much I love the Catalans who seem to generally welcome me at every turn. I settled in the park basking in the sun as it warmed my face, such a joy in January! As I relaxed I stopped and took in the world around me. The sun shone through the palm trees high above me and the air was filled with the screech of green parrots and the hum of the Barcelona traffic. Across from me the older men were together playing petanque, a common sight in the parks of Barcelona. They laughed, encouraged and ribbed each other and slapped each other’s backs in camaraderie. People came and went from the park; many carers came in and out, some congregating with older people they were looking after. They sat and chatted and the older people looked as if they too were like me, basking in the rays of sunshine. Some had a “merienda” as they sat there, too early for lunch at 12.00; so Spanish!
I became aware of another man in the park, a younger man, wearing a sharp suit, Italian looking shoes, his phone constantly to his face and his laptop on his lap. He looked stressed, preoccupied and oblivious to the world. I felt sorry for him missing out on the life going on around us both. Then it made me think….
I moved away to experience a new life and it is amazing that when you first move the whole experience is like a holiday/adventure, not always a perfect, but a new experience, stimulating and challenging with plenty of highs. I remember holding my breath almost daily and thinking Wow! I remember wondering if I would stop almost bursting with excitement each time I saw of row of palm trees or felt the heat on my face as I stepped out in summer. Seasoned expat friends said the honeymoon would last three to six months and yet I still felt the same well after a year. I still skipped at the sight of palm trees after two but I’m not sure when normal life took over. It was subtle but it did happen. Suddenly life again is a blur of the school run, chores, rushing between work and home, battles with civic offices and the day to day of the supermarket. I often don’t see the beach at the end of my road even though I pass it daily. When would I find time to walk barefoot in the sand with three kids, several jobs, projects and life?……
I suddenly realised how much this man and I were alike…. My life has become what it was. It really doesn’t seem to differ from my old one, or does it? I settled back into my park bench and sighed, then smiled. No of course it differs! I can still see and be in love with the palm trees and the parrots. I can still walk to the end of my road and dig my toes in the sand. I can still feel the adventure of having a conversation in my second language. I still can walk in the Catalan hills, ski in winter and marvel at Catalan culture. I’m still here! I still love it! It is still breath taking! I just need to take these moments to breathe, put my head above the parapet, reflect and enjoy!
Fleur moved from the UK after giving up a much-loved career to bring up her children abroad. After initially missing their old life, and struggling with the adaptation process, Fleur says she would now struggle to leave Catalunya after falling in love with the life and people. She has now re-invented herself as a writer and blogger.