Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Life Coach - Barcelona

She has her bitchy days. But for all the difficulties she has presented me with, I have met her challenges head on. And as a result, over the last 3 years I have fallen in love with her. Sure there are days where I would like to smack her upside the head and jump on the next plane home, but as time goes on I've found those days to be fewer and far between. 

That doesn't mean that these 3 years have been easy. Far from it. But Barcelona has taught me so much about myself, about life, the world and the people that make up this world. That differences are what makes the world go round. That without new ways to constantly challenge ourselves we cannot grow. 

She has taught me to embrace change and not to run from it. To seek out adventures where I may not have seen them before.  And while I've had some challenges lately, both Barcelona related and not, to deal with that have incensed my desire to go back home to the States, I thought I would remind myself again of the reasons that I love her just the way she is:
  • Aidan told me the other day that he wants to stay here until at least 6th grade (the plan right now is 5th) because he has decided that his best friends are here and he's finally over the loss of his friends at home.  What he doesn't get is that he hasn't lost his friends at home - that it's ok to have friends in both places.  But I'm still glad that after THREE years he's finally decided to embrace life here.  His attitude is totally reflecting this too - a brand new kid!!
  • Barcelona has enabled us to lead a healthier life style - this is a multi pronged one...
    • Because of the 6 hour time difference I no longer feel rushed or pressured at the gym to get my workout done.  I get it done when I want to get it done and then I go home and work, still hours ahead of my clients who don't get in til 2PM my time.  This means I feel good when I work out, focusing on important healthy time for me and it no longer feels like an obligation but a choice.
    • We walk everywhere.  Yes, we got a car in November but we don't use it on a daily basis and choose to walk most everywhere or take public transit.  It's a totally walkable city and with great weather, how can you not want to be outside?
    • Josh has started to run and take better care of himself.  Nothing makes me happier (aside from happy children).
    • The food here is much healthier than that at home with significantly less, if any preservatives.  
  • We are more eco friendly than we were at home.  I'll admit, I'm not recycling here.  But I've also got a lot less waste.  I'm buying less crap.  I don't have a dryer so I'm using less electricity and drying my clothes with (OMG) the heat of the sun, we don't drive everywhere... the list goes on and on.  
  • Beautiful old buildings all around me with bits of ancient history thrown in here and there!  How can you not love wandering the streets of this city, taking in the old and the new.  With buildings by Gaudi and Dali and so many more talented people, this city is full of beauty in every direction.
  • The people.  While I can't fully communicate with everyone here, it doesn't always seem to matter.  They are kind.  They are helpful.  They don't care that I don't speak the language fluently and just appreciate that I try.  I still look back on the days when Liam was still in a stroller and random strangers would just pick him up or the stroller up and carry him/it down the stairs of the metro.  Or giving him a little piece of candy to make him smile (still kind of creeps me out but in a good way - it's the American in me, I know).  
  • My friends, few as they may be, they are true.  Some have left to go back to their home countries, but they are still my friends and they have made an impact on my life here like I never would have expected.  I didn't want to invest myself in new friendships here when we first moved to Barcelona, but I'm so glad I didn't listen to myself on that one.  And I'm constantly meeting and getting to know new, interesting people.  
  • Travel... I mean really, do I need to elaborate on this one?  Ryan Air may be a little on the sketchy side but how else can you fly all around Europe for under 50 euros round trip?  We have been beyond lucky with this opportunity to travel here and it's more travel than we've done in the course of a lifetime and probably more than we will ever do when we go back to the States.  Next up, London and Malta... 
  • The weather.  It's Feb 5 and it was 62F today.  Yup, that's winter.  Sure it dipped into the upper 40s for a few days and the nights are a bit chilly.  But the kids have yet to put on their winter coats (we are saving those for London this month) but overall, the temps have been 55-60 all winter, if not even a tad warmer.  Of course, I say this now as it is snowing back home... talk to me in August when I don't want to leave my apartment because it's too hot!!  
  • My car and the freedom it gives me.  While we don't use the car on a daily basis, the fact that I can use it just makes me giddy.  The idea that I can pick up and go on a moment's notice.  That playdates have become infinitely easier.  That we can explore areas outside the city.  We have no limitations and that's a good feeling.  Josh would say that we could have just rented a car to do these things but there is something to be said about doing it spontaneously.  
  • Watching my kids grow up in a safe place.  I look at the fear people constantly live with at home.  Fear of guns, fear of kidnapping and much of it is justified.  It's just not a worry that I have here.  The only downside is the kids live in a city so I can exactly let them roam free for fear of a car hitting them.  But if they run a block ahead, I don't worry about someone stealing them and if I lose them in a grocery store I don't immediately think the worst (of course my grocery store is as big as perhaps the produce section at home).  
  • Exposing ourselves to different cultures.  It's not something I ever thought about at home.  I never left the US (other than Canada and the Bahamas) before moving to Barcelona.  Language was never a concern for me.  The US is huge and there was plenty to explore and sure, I'd get to other places someday.  But how naive of me - there is just so much to see out there and so much to learn from other people.  I love that our kids go to school with kids from 40 different countries.  That they have friends from all over the world.  This is an amazing gift to give our children and something I hope that some day they appreciate.  
  • Less pressure.  Yes, Josh and I have to work.  That's never been a doubt there.  But yet, I feel less pressure here overall.  At least beyond work that is.  I don't have the feeling of having to keep up with the Jones'.  I feel that we are working to live and are not living to work.  We both enjoy what we do but have learned to recognize that it does not identify who we are.  We have slowed down our lives here - less commitments, more family time. 
  • Challenges - life is full of them, but try living in a foreign country and you'll see them from a whole new perspective.  I've never challenged myself in such a way before and have to wonder if life will eventually become ho hum, either here or at home, just because after time those challenges of life abroad will dissipate.  These challenges have shaped me into the person I've become in the last few years and I feel pretty good about that :)
  • Less taboos.  People don't really care what you do as long as it doesn't affect them.  You want to shoot off fireworks at 1AM, go for it.  You want to hang your clothes out to dry?  Hey great, and you are helping the environment too.  You want to drink a beer at 8AM on a Tuesday - join in with the rest of the people doing it because there is just no taboo about it.  
  • Technology.  It keeps home within easy reach for me and gives me at least a little bit of both worlds.  I don't think I could have gone on this life journey if it weren't for technology of today.  
  • All the things that I'm still finding out about this city - every day I see something I didn't see before.  This week, the slide park at the Park Diagonal Mar... and last week I heard about a labyrinth which we are going to do sometime soon.  There is always something new, even when walking though my own neighborhood.
  • Mom and pop stores.  There are times where having to go to 5 different stores to get your meats, veggies, fruits and specialty items can be a pain.  However, I will admit, I love the fact that each specializes in their own area of expertise.  That there is a guy I go to just for bananas.  And a woman for my tomato sauce who's daughter also gets motion sick and their annual flight to Kuwait is miserable.  I'm getting to know these vendors little by little - it reminds me a little bit of growing up at home where we used to know everyone in our town.  And it makes it feel less like a city and more like a neighborhood.  However, being mom and pop entities means that no one is here in August and so I hope you stock up before they head out for vacation!!
  • The transportation system - yes, we have a car now, but we didn't need it to survive here - we managed for 3 years without and the system here is amazing.  You can get pretty much anywhere both in and out of the city with relative ease.  
  • Family friendly.  People here love kids.  From a friendly pat on the head from a stranger who just thinks your child is adorable, to helping you down the metro stairs or the grandmotherly type woman who just wants to say hi, the overall consensus is that kids rule.  However, bear in mind that they also are not coddled and this is also a good thing.  Unless you are in a touristy area, there are no childrens' menus, no paper cups with lids and you are expected to behave accordingly because while they love children, they also have no problem yelling at yours if they are out of line.  I don't see this as a bad thing - it often gets my kids' attention if it's not just me that's upset with them!!
  • My kids are becoming bilingual... this is just awesome.  The challenge will be keeping this up when we eventually return home.  I love their school and it's weird to think that they won't always go here because I feel like it's a part of who they are.  The teachers are amazing, the support staff the best and the kids have learned so much in their 3 years here that it blows my mind.  I'm looking forward to what the next few years bring for each of them at BFIS as they continue to grow.  
  • FC Barça.  No, I don't watch much as far as sports go.  But Barça fans are like Red Sox / Patriot fans on crack.  They are insane.  They are intense.  And you can't help but get pulled into the enthusiasm of their spirit.  Liam is a huge fan and likes to point out all the Barça flags he sees in the city (it's a lot).
  • There are fiestas ALL THE TIME.  I swear to god that there is something happening here almost every weekend.  Some events are bigger than others but often there is something fun happening somewhere in this city and especially in our neighborhood.  We'll be walking and come along a random band playing or a batucada (drum band), castellers (human towers), or even some small fireworks.  
  • Traditions.  This city is full of them.  From annual fiestas that continue traditions year to year to three or four generations of families eating meals together every day, this city has so many traditions it could make your head spin.  It's a beautiful thing to see events that have been carried over generation to generation with no sign of stopping.  
  • Christmas.  Ok, Christmas at home is better, but I have to mention Christmas here because of our little friends the caganer and the caga tio.  Both are traditions here and both make me smile every year when they come out of my Christmas decoration bin.  And both will return back to the US with us someday with very fond memories.
  • If we are going on holidays, then my favorite is St. Jordi.  It's like the Spanish version of Valentines Day but with out over-Hallmarking it.  The tradition is for a man to give a woman a rose and for the woman to give the man a book (does not have to be romantic, can just be friends giving these to each other).  With book and rose vendors lining the streets of Barcelona, it's a beautiful day full of history.  And at school the kids do a performance with a traditional Catalan dance (each grade does their own dance) which brings me to tears each year.  Why?  Because I love the things they are learning - the history, the tradition, the dancing, the costumes and so much more!
  • The beach.  While they are still city beaches, they are just a few metro stops away from our apartment.  We can be at the beach in under 20 minutes (ok with the kids it potentially takes longer).  They definitely aren't the cape but their proximity beats quality for this point in time.  I'll have the Cape beaches for the rest of my life.  And this summer with our car, we will definitely explore more out of the city beaches.  Oh and did I mention we'll be on the beach by April??
  • Our neighborhood of Gracia.  We are in such a cool neighborhood full of artisans and little shops.  Small streets.  Lots of festivals including the Festa de Gracia where people decorate their streets with such grandeur that you would think that it was the Olympics of street decorating.
So in the end, while home will always be home, Barcelona has won my heart for now.  I have no doubt that I have forgotten a ton of things here, but you get the gist.  And I thank her for all that she's taught me, all that I have become and the person I will be when I eventually go back home.  


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