Chapter 21: Sky High Dreams

Uncle Jimmy!

Hey, I’m temporarily out of afterlife jokes right now. Let’s just pretend I zinged you, OK?

I’ve written you a lot about the details of traveling in Spain, but I don’t think I’ve given you a glimpse into what an average day is like for me here in Barcelona. A compare and contrast kind of thing. And since I haven’t forgotten about the “what’s next in this life?” question for after the trip, I thought I’d write you some words on Barcelona Living.

Overall, it’s still the weirdest things that capture my attention. Those times when I have to actually be deeply in the moment and think about all of the little details that are normally solely on autopilot. Like with language and communication.

As an English-speaker in an English-speaking town, you would never consider the mechanism of asking a counter-person for a bag of pretzels. You would just say the words. Living overseas and having English be a distant third in language popularity, you need to figure out what to do before you do it. But, this is actually very cool. To me, at least. Just about everything makes you live, adapt, and participate in that moment.

Now, having said that, I really wish I could be more comfortable with Spanish. I can usually get by at restaurants and shops, but conversations are not really possible. I can catch enough words sometimes to get the gist of a joke, but usually I’m just that guy who stands there and smiles, never completely knowing what’s going on. And hoping someone will clue me in.

I’ve tried so many different ways to learn. Online courses, applications on my phone, having my Cuban girlfriend only speak to me in her native tongue. Nothing really works. Hell, living in Miami should have made me more proficient, but I always fell back on English.

What I need is immersion. I can feel it living here, being almost forced to use the language. Barcelona is kinda cool in that most everyone also speaks English and Catalan, but even so, I try to only use Spanish when speaking with anyone when some kind of transaction needs to be made.

I think if I ever decide to move here more-or-less permanently, I would have a much better environment in which to learn. Plus, just like we have “English as a Second Language” classes in the States, they have the reverse. In fact, the regional government offers free language classes in Catalan, because they want to keep the language strong.

Oh, funny thing about that. On the original trip to Barcelona, I was reading everything. Every sign, every poster. The screens in the subway. I was trying like hell to pick up more Spanish by using the written word, and it was working pretty well.

Then we went to Madrid.

All of the sudden, all of the words changed. The word salida was written over the exit where I was used to seeing the word sortie. I was seriously confused, until I realized that I had been learning to read Catalan. In Barcelona, that’s the primary language, with Spanish and English written under it. I had no idea what the hell I had been absorbing, and somehow that just cracked me up.

One of the biggest treats in living here is transportation. You absolutely do not need a car, period. Anything local is either walkable, or the subway/bus system can get you to within easy strolling distance. Want to go slightly further, say 100 miles? Hop on a regional train and ride in comfort. Better than sitting in congestion on highways in your personal air-conditioned box. Want to go even further? High speed trains. Regional airlines. It’s just simple, and I love it. I do not miss my car in the least.

Even if I were to get tired of walking (and after the trip thus far, it’s a possibility in the making), locals here have the ability to wave a card at a machine and get a bicycle to use for a few hours. Ride it to wherever you’re going and just put it back in the machine there. And these racks are everywhere!

So yea, getting around is a wonderment.

It’s hard to have a competition between life here and the land where you’re buried. Because they are very different types of fruit, and I’m trying hard not to be the guy who says one is better than the other. And besides, I enjoy both bananas and apples alike. Which brings me back to the imposing subject of … What’s next after my current next?

I don’t know if you’ve given it any more thought. Or if you even remembered that I asked you for advice. I know I’m still flailing when it comes to deciding which direction I turn in September, when this adventure is completed.

Just before we left, Nikki and I did a waterway cleanup down on one of the Florida Keys. All day, just pulling trash and debris from the mangroves and out of the sea grass. Stinking ourselves up to high heaven from the muck. But it was somehow also the essence of Keys Life. Surrounded by nature, friends, and beauty.

At the end of that day, tired and reeking, it was all I wanted. To stay and plunge completely into being a ‘Conch’. It’s really such a simple and pleasurable way to live, if you desire to live in a single where.

But then I came to Barcelona. And now, every moment of every day can be something completely new. Every simple act feels like an adventure. And there is nature and beauty here as well. And even more possibilities outside of the city.

So, the bottom line is, I’m still see-sawing through my options on what to do after this little soirée comes to a close. I have a feeling that whatever comes to be, it may not be an either-or.

Then again, the question of what to do next with my life may be answered instead with “where don’t I want to be?”. Which is a sad way to direct ones course. So against my better judgment against judging my birth place, I need to vent to you a little bit about my United States “home”.

The environment the US finds itself in currently is beyond toxic. Cultivated hatred and bigotry. The general populous voting in representatives who only see in terms of greed and backward thinking. I honestly don’t know how much more I can take, living in an environment that is becoming more and more defined by reversing course, big egos, and harming others. I’m just not cut of that cloth.

Yes, I know this letter started with the intention of telling you about how I currently live, and it devolved into how I don’t want my life to be. And I’m still stubbornly stacking options against each other, trying to determine which direction I want to go next. And perhaps how I can help and benefit others by that decision.

Time will tell, I suppose.

But for now, life is indeed grand here in the city of Barcelona. And I still have a long swath of calendar left in which to embrace it. So back to living I go.

Love you mucho, my dear uncle. More soon.

– Rick

PS: There is something about the way we live here that I forgot to tell you. Last trip, it felt at times like we were all about the go-go-go. This time, on any given evening, we might just as well stay close to home as seek something brand new.

Now, this should be the same as any home base, right? Quiet nights and Party-On-Wayne evenings alike? But somehow, here it just feels different. Maybe it’s because there is so much, packed into so small a space. Or maybe it’s just the excitement of being always surrounded by so much history. But the one thing I do know is that even the most mundane element of daily living here has never ceased being incredible.

– R

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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