Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Epiphany in Barcelona

I passed a googly-eyed teenage couple lying beside each other on a blanket in the Ciutadella Park. But I wasn’t grimacing at her Ronald McDonald dye job or his over-gelled, bleached curls. I didn’t even gag at their sloppy kisses. Later a beautiful blond woman and a dark and handsome man, both wearing pressed designer jeans and toting leather bags, exchanged whispered secrets and giggles in the seat in front of me on the metro. But I didn’t roll my eyes.

In line outside the La Seu Cathedral a British family argued. The teenage children shoved their hands in their pockets and ignored their parents. I felt a pang of envy. A group of horse-playing students in the Pedralbes Park by the university almost trampled me. I couldn’t get mad. A pair of men holding hands and carrying a load of luxury shopping bags walked into Loewe on Passeig de Gracia. I wanted someone to hold my hand. When families out for evening strolls on Portal de l'Angel blocked my path, I wasn’t irritated with the slow-moving grandparents or the screaming toddlers. I wished I were walking with them.

However a few weeks earlier I’d been in a cranky mood, complaining that it was already December and Barcelona hadn’t even started decorating. I wanted Christmas lights and carols. When the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas market in Barri Gotic finally opened, I found all of the little caga tios (Catalan for pooing logs) for sale appalling. They had painted smiles, red hats, and twigs for legs and noses. Children would beat the giant caga tio in the plaza with a stick until the back end produced chocolate candy. 

Even more offensive was the caganer, the figure with his pants around his ankles squatting to relieve himself on the edge of all the nativity scenes. How could Catalans be so sacrilegious that even the holiest cathedrals from the middle ages had caganers marring their nativities?

I was bitter and wanted to be home. I missed Rudolph and was dying to hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and watch Miracle on 34th Street. The family I stayed with only had a doll-size Christmas tree.

But several days later, after I bought a scoop of chocolate almonds at the Sagrada Familia Christmas market I started feeling jealous of the packs of obnoxious, flirting middle schoolers and the cranky old ladies shoving me out of the way to buy Christmas ornaments. I realized even without the holiday bargains and Christmas parties, these people had the company of the ones they loved.

From then on when I walked alone in L’Eixample I’d consider all the couples and families, from the uppity Italians to the complaining Americans. The friends I’d made in Spain had already gone home to their respective European countries for Christmas, and my own family was an ocean away. I was deep in thought as I admired the glowing Christmas displays in the store windows and sighed at all the fancy chocolates and diamonds I wouldn’t be giving, receiving, or appreciating with anyone.

That Christmas in Barcelona I decided I never wanted to judge friends or strangers who were happy and in love, no matter how annoying I found them or their demonstrations of affection, or how unhealthy I found their relationships. I vowed to hold my criticism and be happy for others who’d found happiness.

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