Chapter 13: Pesky Emotions

Uncle Jimmy!

Hey, my phone rang the other night, but no one was there. Was that you? If so, maybe next time you can rattle some chains or something? 🙂

It’s been a little rough going for your favorite nephew lately. Why, you ask? Guilt. Every now and again that bad feeling just creeps up on me. Usually after I finish some wonderful new experience. As I’m winding down and reflecting, it just seeps in and competes for my emotions. Because, after all, who am I to enjoy all of this richness when the family I’m supposed to love and support are not? My (adult) kids are back home working, and I’m out having the time of my life.

I thought it had to do with my typical American upbringing. That “Men Take Care Of Their Families, Period” mentality that was so rock solid during my forming years. Like a man could never have a life that wasn’t titled ‘Provider”. I’ve always wanted to ask other men from other cultures if they felt the same, but the other lesson from you and my Dad and every other adult male in the 1960’s had to do with “Men Don’t Talk About Emotions”.

So … thanks.

Every time that conflict comes upon me … feeling selfish for simply enjoying my own life … I have to remind myself that I’m actually doing more than just abandoning my family at home. I’m also taking the time to record and document, to share with others. To perhaps teach and educate on what the world is really like. Showing how media cycles and power-seeking politicians don’t get to have the last word on the joys that are people and cultures. And, of course, I get to write about all of this to you.

Bottom line is I’m still learning how to not be an American male.

Speaking of emotions, I’ve found something here that surprised me. Barcelona is a big city in Spain, second largest in population actually. But it’s also the capital of the Community of Catalonia. And for a very long time, Catalonia has been trying to gain independence from Spain.

Last year, the people voted on a referendum to do just that, and it passed. They wanted to be free. So the Spanish authorities promptly removed the entire sitting Catalan government, jailed many, and called for new elections to run the region.

Spain did not react with a soft touch.

Passions and emotions ran high. Police physically fought against protesters. It seemed, according to all news sources, that something very big was happening and not going to go away anytime soon. When we were here last, before those elections, you would see flags everywhere. Some for Spain, some for Catalonia. Everyone had a very strong opinion, and no one was on the fence. Times were tense.

Skip to today. It seems strangely quiet on that front. There are few flags flying on balconies, for either side. There doesn’t seem to be a brewing conflict on the horizon, except maybe for calls to free the politicians who simply approved a vote.

Now, this is surely due to the crackdown, but it also kinda feels like the pot boiled over, the heat was lowered, and for now only time will tell when it boils over again. Sure, there are some banners around, and all the usual graffiti (which seems to be everywhere in all of Europe), but generally speaking … it’s mostly silent on the Spanish/Catalonia lines.

Ummm, where was I?

Oh yea, writing to you about my trek. Yet somehow I’ve spent two pages on touchy-feely emotions and government oppression.

Let’s start again.


Hey Uncle Jimmy!

Feel good tale for you. Remember a few letters back when I was discussing pickpockets here in Barcelona? Well, Nikki just told me a story about a swipe that didn’t go quite as planned.

She was riding back from a shopping trip on the subway when this large man suddenly grabbed another guy by the back of his neck and started shouting at him. Let’s call the grabber “Joe Samaritan” and the grab-ee “Johnny Asshole”. Joe watched Johnny lift a man’s wallet and decided that enough was enough. It simply wasn’t going to happen in his neighborhood. Not on his watch, no sir.

The short version of the story is that Joe made Johnny return the wallet (never letting go of his neck) and proceeded to turn him in all directions, making sure the cameras in the subway car caught the entirety of his face. Joe told Johnny that he was throwing him off the train at the next station, and whoever he was working with had better get off too. (Funny thing is, a third man then softly piped up and said that he had to get off at the next stop, but please don’t think that he was the partner). So anyway, doors open, and Joe still has Johnny by the neck. Carries him out the door, spins him around to all of the cameras and people in the station, all the while shouting “pickpocket”. He then tosses him away and got back on the train.

I think I’m in love with Joe. 🙂

Guess what? Spain had another festival. Yea, I know. Must be a day that ends in ‘y’. This one was a big deal though. It’s celebrated across the entirety of the country and is called the Fiesta de San Juan, or the night of fire. I won’t go into details on what it is, but I do want to share how it was.

It started around 6pm Sunday evening, where in a large plaza and before hundreds of people, a flame was brought from far away in the mountains and a cauldron was lit. The usual semi-political speeches were made, and then a procession of groups representing each barrio (or neighborhood) came up and lit their lanterns from the main flame. Each would take it back to their neighborhood to light a bonfire. Sounds semi-dull, I know, but there were also these giant figurines being paraded around. Humans (I don’t know who they represented) that were maybe twenty feet tall. Most folks watching were carrying little sprig trees too (again, I have no info for you as far as why, guess I’m just a lame story-teller). And many people also had these little boxes with a small candle inside, where they could carry their own flame.

We then walked back to our neighborhood, around three hours later, and watched them light our barrio bonfire. Drummers were playing and families were everywhere. Many hundreds of people, filling the square. Firecrackers going off non-stop, and the flames captured everyone.

Now, lest you think that was it, nope. Merely the beginning. For the real festival was just about to start. It lasted until … well, sometime the next day. We went to the beach where thousands upon thousands upon thousands were already spread out. The beach couldn’t have held many more humans. Music was blasting, fireworks were blasting … it was a party unlike any other. The fun thing was, despite all of the ordinance and alcohol, there was no need for police oversight. Everyone policed themselves. Completely free, yet calm and orderly.

We only stayed until midnight (the booze ran out). But it was incredible to behold. There was this endless haze from the fireworks blanketing the area. And every few minutes someone would light off another volley. Laughter, dancing, and happiness everywhere. It was incredible.

Two years ago we watched the same festival in Vigo Spain, and they did it a tad differently. 🙂 Where in Barcelona it was a large beach party, Vigo went full-on Pagan Parade. Folks dressed in hooves, horns, and goats heads. Witches, you name it. Dancing through the narrow streets and alleyways to the sounds of drums, down to a bonfire which was ten times the size of the one in Barcelona. That was a sight.

The festival is semi-historical and partially religious. But what I celebrated was the aspect about welcoming the shortest night of the year. Summer had finally come, and the darkness was going to be filled with joy and light. And it was.

Love, Rick

PS: Something strange is starting to happen inside my noggin. I was trying to think of Florida today, and I realized that I didn’t miss it. Not one bit. So I tried to put myself mentally back in Miami or Key Largo and see if I could envision how I would think of Barcelona from there. And I craved it. A thousand percent homesick, despite the fact that I was physically in the desired city as I was playing that mental “what if” game. I’m not sure what it all means, but I honestly seem to have zero desire to return to that state.

– R