Back to Barcelona (The Highlights)

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La Sagrada Familía

Well, I had every intention of blogging about our second day in Matera, dear Reader, but no sooner were Billy and I back from that trip than we headed to Barcelona to meet some friends. I know, life is hard.

Returning to Barcelona, one of my favorite cities, with my new husband has me feeling positively giddy. Barcelona has a sunny vibe that can be attributed not only to its pleasant weather, but also to its fantastical architecture, international cuisine, and bustling street life. Calling a city “vibrant” may be be the low-hanging fruit of travel writing but, I swear, Barcelona is vibrant indeed. Billy’s friends Tradd and Amanda are joining us from Germany and the four of us have picked El Born as our base of operations – an artsy neighborhood teeming with restaurants and boutiques. We have fun discussing the quirks of our current countries; the disorganization of Italy and the rigid arrangement of Germany make for excellent dinner fodder.

Take Me To Church
I won’t bore you with lengthy descriptions of Barcelona’s most obvious sights and, to be honest, this time around I opted to avoid a lot of the neighborhoods I visited during my last trip (too touristy). However!… there is one attraction that really, truly moves me – one that I couldn’t possibly bear to let Billy miss: La Sagrada Família.

Antonio Gaudí’s basilica has been under construction since 1882, and since his death in 1926, construction has continued based on an interpretation of the plans and models he left behind. Whether you’re interested in architecture, art, or theology, you could spend a lifetime studying any or all of these topics as it relates to Gaudí’s masterpiece. (I’m trying to avoid nerding out on you here, dear Reader, but bear with me). Many of Gaudí’s creations were inspired by structures and geometrical patterns found in nature – archways made to look like soaring trees, roofs that mimic the gentle curve of a leaf. This place of worship is commendable for a host of academic reasons but for me, personally, I fell in love with the sense of celebration it incites: for life, for nature, for beautiful things.

The crowds outside are overwhelming but since Amanda and I bought tickets ahead of time (these girls don’t do lines), our group breezes right in. We are greeted by a kaleidoscope of color streaming through the stained glass windows, and I note that several details have been added since my last visit almost seven years ago. We take the lift up one of the towers and enjoy gorgeous views of the city as well as an up close look at the ongoing construction. Billy promises to bring me back when the church is complete but we both know we’ll return long before then.

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Welcome to Sparta
Another one of our group’s highly anticipated events is The Spartan Race – yet another obstacle race en vogue at the moment, and allegedly, the toughest. With time to kill before our heat at 2:30, we wander over to the practice area. The obstacles do not strike me as especially intimidating. Lifting heavy tires? Okay. Scaling walls? Um, I probably won’t do it gracefully or without a boost from Billy but… okay.

What is a bit overwhelming is the pervasive cult of badassery surrounding me. Women dressed in short shorts and knee-high socks are discussing strategies for the rope climb while Amanda and I attempt to warm up with some (apparently banal) air squats. Functional fitness appeals to me but sometimes I struggle with these obstacle races and CrossFit-type groups because, although many people are able to find inspiration in the competition and community, for me it just becomes distracting.  Anyway, there is no time for further contemplation; the Spartans in our heat are already congregating at the starting line. AROOO!! (Or something. I dunno. Everyone is yelling it).

Sidenote: The New Yorker printed an article about the psychology of these kinds of races a while ago. Pretty interesting.

The four of us make our way along the course, slowly but surely. We carry some heavy things, we balance our way over ditches, we crawl through mud. We swim through mud. We slide on our asses down hills of mud. I accidentally eat a bit of mud. Basically, there was a ton of mud. So onward we went, smelling like a herd of elephants, kind of running and kind of slipping and sliding from one obstacle to the next. Now, I consider myself a fairly fit person. I diversify my workouts and I make an effort to eat clean, so I’m astonished to discover just how difficult some of these tasks are to complete while covered in a bit of water and dirt. In any case, we finish and then the real challenge begins: cleaning up. Ugh!

A few days after the race, all participants receive a video of their physical prowess in action. In my video, frenzied “Spartans” are clambering up a muddy rope ladder and then there’s me: jogging comfortably into the frame and, after taking careful note of the crowd, opting to move to the furthest part of the ladder where I methodically make my way up quietly, away from the madness. I had to laugh, it was a very “Malia” thing to do.

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Quiet Time (My Favorite Time)
The following morning Billy and I meet Tradd and Amanda at Mosaiccos, a mosaic shop near our accommodations. The owner, Angelica, has offered to teach us how to create our own mosaics. First, we select wooden shapes to design. I choose a lizard (somewhat ambitious because of its curvy edges), the boys choose squares, and Amanda opts for a napkin holder. After some brief instruction on how to cut the glass and paste it onto our wooden surfaces, Angelica leaves us to create. We work quietly. Partially because we are exhausted from the race the day before and partially, I like to think, because of the intense level of concentration dedicated to our craft. There is something therapeutic about working with your hands; my mind alternately wanders and then fixates on the task before me. The activity is a lovely pause during our otherwise busy visit. Plus, now I have a lizard mosaic!

The next day the four of us say farewell at the airport and head to our respective gates. When it’s time to board our flight to Italy, Billy and I can’t help but notice that the orderliness of “the outside world” is already beginning to fade; the line that had been neatly formed dissolves into an amorphous mass of chatter (in Italiano, ovviamente). Mamma Mia, home sweet home.

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