Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who Let the Cat Out? At Home in an Urban Wilderness

As I walked home through the narrow, uneven streets of old Barcelona last night I realized all at once that I know this place better than any place I have ever lived (not counting small-town New England, where the handful of good bars, restaurants, and historic landmarks are easily mastered). I know the streets and the sounds and smells. I know the history. The mystique and disorientation that I felt upon first arriving here nine months ago has slowly, indiscernibly given way to a more nuanced understanding of my surroundings; afforded me new opportunities to step away and reflect on this special way of life.

Sadly, this whopping realization was instantly followed by fear. Fear of leaving and starting over. Where in my home country can I find the fundamental things that make my life in Barcelona so imperfectly complete? The old-world charm with over 2000 years of history and architecture, built on top of each other in a incredible melange of Romanesque, Medieval, Baroque, Modernist, and more. The beach, with refreshing waves just a short walk from my front door. The cheap rent. The never-ending parade of interesting people from all corners of the globe. The proximity to the rest of Europe and beyond. The opportunity to speak in a foreign language every day. The edge up I have as an English speaking trained chef and writer with tourism experience and a strong network of fellow expatriates. That fact that I have found outlets that PAY for my writing. The beautiful markets overflowing with products—local meat, seasonal vegetables, and the freshest fish I have ever tasted—that don't cost you your entire food budget when you want to indulge. A job I thoroughly enjoy and bosses that I respect and genuinely like. The night life that barely ever sleeps. The Mediterranean climate that promises to never burden one with excessive rain, snow shovels, heat waves, or broken pipes, but has distinct seasons, each with their own edible treasures waiting to be explored. 

However, higher wages, a 'career', concrete citizenship, proximity to my family, and love will surely bring me back to the United States. This coming summer in Barcelona will be wonderful, but sometimes I doubt my ability to carry on in this fashion without moving onward and upward to something bigger. If that is not in the cards, so be it, but I hope that when this chapter closes it will be merely capped with a place-marker—a dog-eared page ready to be reopened in the future with new vitality and excitement. 

I am going to try my hardest to procure an Italian passport; my Holy Grail. My golden ticket. My grandmother was born in Italy, and through Italian law, if one can prove that their Italian lineage is unbroken (as I can with the proper documents), you may be granted Italian citizenship without needing to ever live in the country, take a test on the 100 most common pasta shaped, or any other things that one may assume would be required to officially become Italiano

Once I achieve this goal of becoming a permanent citizen of the European Community, the world is wide open. Freedom to work and travel was something I took for granted my entire life, despite working side by side many times with Latin-American co-workers of questionable legal status but undeniable work ethic and drive. 

What it comes down to is that Barcelona is a wonderful place full of daily, idiosyncratic hurdles that— while sometimes frustrating—bring color to an economy-stricken society and make the everyday hustle ever the more interesting. 

As with a house cat that spends its entire life indoors only to one day slip through the cracks and find itself in a vivid world full of danger and beauty, deciding to stay in Barcelona was exhilarating and liberating with a hint of terror and doubt thrown in the mix. And no matter how comfortable life in-doors may be with a full bowl and a warm bed, that glimpse of another life is intoxicating. It makes you so grateful that that door was left open long enough for you to make a foolhardy plunge. You at first feel lost and exposed, but as time goes by you realize that you are in fact where you were meant to be. It took some clever maneuvering, but you have arrived! And for me, with not nine lives but just one, why wait? Though I have never considered myself a "house cat" by any means, one never knows what they are missing until they take a leap into the unknown. 


  1. Replies
    1. Wonderful insight Sam! I'm looking forward to soaking-up a taste of yr new home soon...Ciao!