In her bestselling book about “The Writing Life”, Annie Dillard comments, “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”
If that’s true, my month in Barcelona is off to a horrible start.
On the other hand, I am writing these words in the dark, so perhaps there’s still hope.
It’s a balmy evening, and I’m relishing it. A sweet, salty breeze blows up from the sea — visible during the day, though long since rendered indistinguishable from the nighttime sky — caressing my skin and carrying away any remaining doubts about making the trip halfway around the world. The night itself feels decadent.
Santa María del Mar, a mere stone’s throw away, has just tolled 10:45 in the evening. She tolls a lot. More than I would expect and for reasons that sometimes elude me. Earlier she woke me from a jet-lag-induced siesta with an endless succession of imperfectly timed chimes, like a senile 600-year-old chattering on and on about nothing. But I was glad she did. I opened my eyes to discover a stunning sunset well underway, a climactic burst of golden flames sending me rushing to the roof for a closer look.
Squawking snow-white egrets and great blue herons returned from commutes I’d seen them make in the morning, while agile swallows circled overhead much like the bats who would appear shortly after. Closer to the ground but nonetheless also taking to the sky, flashing baubles began making their ill-fated, repetitive ascents, immigrant street vendors hoping to fill children with awe and their parents with charity.
Tonight like every night the restaurant exhaust vent belches the smell of fried tapas — at times almost enticing, at others nearly nauseating — a greasy film taking to the air along with it, coating my skin like it batters the seafood. Already covered in the salt from my sweat, it doesn’t matter. Planes draw the same perfect line from upper left to lower right, one final approach after another; and, a few stars somehow pierce the overpowering glow of the big-city lights.
It feels good to be back. Odd though to relive an experience I had assumed was one-time. On the other hand, I’m not actually reliving my previous stay here anymore than I relive each day in my apartment at home.
If I’m here it’s because — the spectacular views notwithstanding — it’s a perfect place to write. My own stork’s nest perched high above the city. Here in my tiny studio — toilet, shower, kitchen, and bed all in one room — the claustrophobic chaos of the tourist-packed alleyways is a world away. Fanny packs. Selfie-sticks. The drunken, lobster-skinned, piss-anywhere hooligans who have the whole neighborhood in a state of rebellion. None of them stand a chance against the trio of miniature terriers guarding the entrance of my tower, my little Cerberuses of the upperworld. Other than the gentle hum of nearby air conditioners, the industrious rhythms of far-off construction, and the sporadic cries of agitated gulls, little disturbs the sacred peace of this special place.
Annie Dillard also referenced a West African proverb, “The beginning of wisdom is to get you a roof.”
At least I got that part right.
And so I work.
So I write.