Leica Minizoom, 35 mm B&W, 400 ISO
Leica Minizoom, 35 mm B&W, 400 ISO
This is a sketch from one of my experiences in the common room of Sant Jordi Mambo Tango hostel in Barcelona, Spain.
Cheerful voices drifted upward and grew as I descended Into the cellar-like cavern beneath the hostel, the metal staircase announcing my arrival in eight ringing claps.
The room was dark with only a few christmas lights strung sloppily in the corners, little pools of reddened light on brown brick walls. Loud clangs and WHOP WHOPS came pouring out of the tiny kitchen to my right, alive with the frenetic movements of travelers making pasta and chopping vegetables.
I found an empty chair in an isolated area near the TV and gave a “sup” to the two guys lounging on the couch watching Billy Madison. One gave me a quick nod of acknowledgement, the other nodded toward the TV, his pointer finger half-buried in a jar of Nutella.
WHOP WHOP WHOP
In the center of the room a group of four sat at the long communal table discussing the social decay of common rooms when a television is introduced. A grunt of agreement came from the bearded man who stood hunched over the biggest loaf of bread I’d ever seen, hacking off an enormous slice with his switchblade.
“That’s quite the loaf,” I said, my eyes slowly devouring the deep golden crust and white fluffy flesh of the bread, hoping in vain he’d offer me some.
“Thanks.” He said, eyeing me suspiciously as my eyes darted away from the bread as if I’d been caught staring at cleavage.
Two others faced opposite each other playing chess while a thin girl with dirty-blond hair sat watching, an amused expression on her face as the victor made his final move. He leaned over the table, curling his finger beneath his chin and whispered.
He whispered again.
“I can’t hear you brother, why’re you whispering?”
With an incredulous look he turned to the girl next to him and whispered in her ear.
“He lost his voice at a football match,” she said laughing. “He asked if you want a rematch.”
“I’m OK, mate,” said the loser, shaking his head as he stood up.
I listened half-paying attention to half the things in the room – WHOP WHOP WHOP – when I heard another whisper.
I looked at him, not sure if he was talking to me.
“Hey, wanna play?”
“Wanna play?” He whispered again, pointing toward the chess board.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. “I’m rusty though.”
“Already with the excuses.” He whispered with a smile.
We set up our pieces as the noises in the kitchen shifted to an oily sizzle.
“Check Mate,” I said.
The whisperer sat mutely in his chair, elbows resting on the table while his hands burrowed absently into the depths of his curly black hair. Moments passed in shocked silence as his eyes sparkled amusedly at the board then at the girl to his right, then back to the board.
“I’m Jon.” I said, extending my hand.
His gaze rose to my hand, then my face. “David.” He whispered, accepting the handshake. And with a grin he whispered, “Rematch mother fucker?”
On coming to a new city there are a slew of emotions that strike and pass while I slowly do my best to blend in to the city. From excitement and freedom to loneliness and displacement, the cycle never seems to change while routine continues to be my best ally in establishing my place in a foreign land with a foreign language.
But routine or not, there I was after a long night of that famed Barcelona night life and too much box wine, experiencing my first daylight dia in Barcelona — getting deliciously lost.
I spent hours weaving my way through the light-starved alleys of the Barri Gotic and El Born until inevitably, I found myself sitting in a square drinking a cappuccino.
Hemmed in by brightly colored balconies I stared and looked and glanced and watched. Children were at play in the center of the square filling the plaza with excited squeals.
In a corner between the trees and beyond the rowdy noise an Orwellian sculpture of twisted metal rose in a sweeping arc, its lifeless gaze a silent sentinel. (It wasn’t until I left that I found out the plaza was actually named after Orwell.)
But nature doesn’t seem to care about this fact and gave the sculpture another purpose; a perch for pigeons.
I pondered natures impartiality with furrowed brow until I was distracted by an especially fat pigeon that wandered into my field of vision flapping about, picking up leaves in frustration and waiting in vain for the misplaced crumb that never seemed to come.
Standing stoically aside, barren trees point naked limbs at green-needled pines, waiting patiently for their season. A flag-stone finish for their fallen leaves.
As the cup quickly drained, I thought about how far I’ve come — 2/3 of my way around the world — and how similarly these scenes have played out throughout my journey. It’s the stage that always seems to change.
And what a stage this beautiful city sets for life’s little dramas.