Chapter 23: Slip-Sliding Away

Uncle Jimmy!

I was just thinking. The phrases “I’m sorry” and “I apologize” really mean the same thing, right? You know, everywhere except maybe at a funeral.

The other morning, as Nikki and I were getting our morning cup of coffee at a local cafe, I realized just how diverse this city can be. Not in the way of nationality or anything like that. I mean in the way of age. There can be very different versions of Barcelona here, depending on where you are in years.

Young life is obvious, as this can be a real party town. And all of the “middle aged” folks like us can have our own version of the city as well. Fun, yet a little more laid back. But it’s the older people who capture my attention most mornings. They come out in droves, all heading to the market, to the cafes to meet with friends, or just to stroll. They walk more here than the average 20-something walks in the States by a factor of ten, so these “geriatrics” are fit as fit can be. And all of the neighborhoods are completely suited to them and their needs.

Every letter I’ve shared thus far about walkability might just as well have been about elder-ability. It’s so great to see 70 and 80-somethings (and yet even older) being able to live out their golden years so completely self-reliant. Surrounded by so many of their own age.

It’s a bit of a shame my folks like the country life so much. This would be a great place for them to enjoy their remaining years. They’re both still very much mobile, and Barcelona would fit them to the proverbial ‘T’. Well, except for the parts about them hating crowds. And noise. And everything else in a city. 🙂

But, despite having said that every age group has its own world, everyone also melds perfectly into a single sphere. There really isn’t a sense of isolation here based on age. It doesn’t matter when you’re sitting at an establishment listening to music if you’re 25 or 55. One of our great friends here is the same age as one of Nikki’s daughters, yet we don’t look at ourselves like that. Nor does she. We’re just friends. Age isn’t a factor. Likes and passions are what matters.

I really dig that, personally. Not because I want to relive my youth, that’s an Americanism. But because folks from all across the age spectrum can get on the same dance floor, and no one thinks of it as odd. It’s actually welcomed and desired. Inclusion is the norm, regardless of label. And once you see that, you can’t help but smile every moment you’re inside of it.

Now, having said all that, I’ve learned that appearances can also be deceiving here. Take fitness, for example.

We had dinner with another friend not so long ago, and we were talking about the differences in human health between Barcelona and elsewhere. And her observations surprised me. A lot.

As I’ve mentioned in numerous other paragraphs and letters, folks here are not obese. They are trim and fit looking. Because of what and how they eat, and the fact that they move and walk always. But according to our friend, that’s only surface deep. Her view was that the average Spaniard was actually quite unhealthy, or at least fairly unfit. That if they needed to put their bodies to work doing something other than walking, they would probably fail.

I pointed out that there were several outdoor fitness areas all along the beach, with all sorts of built-in equipment to help with strength and whatnot. Her response was that only expats and tourists used them.

Now, I really had no facts to debate her. She obviously knows more than I do. Besides actually living in Barcelona currently, for years she also went to school here. She is familiar with the culture and the people, far more so than I. But if she is indeed correct, then I’m kinda disillusioned. Maybe it’s my Miami Mentality, but I’ve always figured thinner was fitter. But perhaps that’s just reduced calories and smoking around these parts. I don’t know. But … regardless of pesky facts, I do feel that the lack of obesity can only be a full-on good thing. Sure, maybe Joe Barca isn’t going to run a four minute mile. And maybe he puts too much alcohol and nicotine into himself. But he’s also not carrying around 40-50-290 extra pounds. And he isn’t eating enough preservatives to put off decomposing for many years after death. Maybe the real answer lies between her views and my beliefs. Besides, our friend is kind of a fitness freak, so I’m fighting back against facts using that as an excuse. 🙂

What else has been going on? Let’s see …

I discovered some good old-fashioned American Blues music over here. A place called the Harlem Jazz Club hosts a jam night every week, and it’s been a huge hit with me. Basically, anyone who can play the blues, plays. And they’re all good. Damn good. The flavor has been a little on the rockabilly side (I tend to prefer a more Memphis vibe), but it has been outstanding. Small space, always filled. The funny thing is, they don’t push the booze. I would have expected them to use the attraction to boost the business. But even though they have two physical bars, only the small one is ever in use. It feels like they don’t really care if they make sales. I like it. Feels as though it’s all about the music.

Did I ever write about our trip to Valencia? No? Shame on me. Well, we went to Valencia. As in oranges. 🙂

The city is a three-plus hour train ride down the coast. And it’s pretty neat, except for when it isn’t. It’s hard to describe. For starters, the last remodel of anything was probably in 1982. And our hotel certainly showed that. I mean, who still uses clear acrylic bathroom accessories? The older parts of Valencia, like throughout the city center and also in a couple of the nearby neighborhoods, were a lot of fun to explore. But once off that path everything becomes really emotionally draining. Endless dull brick apartment buildings. Each perhaps twelve stories tall, with absolutely nothing attractive about them. I called them Franco Housing. It’s like the only thing they were built for was to pack as many people per acre as possible. It was depressing, and sadly, seemingly more the normal than not.

But the parts of the city that weren’t made for (and never updated from) the rule of a dictator were quite nice. Very open and filled with families. And in contrast to the way Barcelona is today, it felt like modern day Spain had not quite yet arrived. Conservative dress and manners still seemed to pervade.

Oh! And the food was excellent! Which was the real reason we went. I did not put a bad bite into my mouth. Not even once. Not even at the cheapest breakfast joint. This is a serious foodie town. And I probably gained the pounds to prove it. I can never eat paella again anywhere else.

Somewhere in the middle, I’m pretty sure it was on a Friday, we took a bus to the beach. And it was not what I was expecting. It was … quiet. Really, really quiet. And not just because there were less people than the sand would allow (unlike the rest of the coastline). Where a larger beach might have a hundred restaurants and bars alongside of it, they had maybe ten. Over a mile span. It was seriously quiet.

It was also hot. And me being me, sunscreen was not a part of the day. So I didn’t just lobster, I self-nuked. There wasn’t a square inch uncovered that didn’t get a first-approaching-second degree burn. It took many days before I could pull on clothing without an ouch and a wince. Not my finest decision making moment. But despite that, I really did enjoy the day. Twas extremely peaceful, and the water was absolutely perfect.

There was a fun moment on the beach that day. The afternoon before, Nikki and I were eating in a restaurant and I noticed the next couple over for some reason. She was slim, attractive, and had extremely short hair. He was pasty white and bald. Had the coloration of a dying man. I didn’t think much of it until they sat next to us at the beach! Coincidence? Perhaps not. We thought they were from the NSA, or perhaps MI6. Obviously there to spy on our treasonous talk against the Republican Party and other Neo-Nationalist individuals. 🙂 After an hour or so they started arguing and then not talking at all. We thought because we had “made them”. Or perhaps they were just a struggling couple having a bad day, not really sure. One explanation is reality, and the other is a fun little mental movie. You choose.

So that was Valencia. Hot as hell, great food, spies everywhere, and a place I’d really like to return to and visit more.

Let’s see, what else? Our trip is rapidly coming towards an end, so I’m trying to backfill as much as I can.

Well, at the risk of beating a dead horse even deader, I was asked something interesting not so long ago. What was the difference between Trip Uno and Trip Dos for me? The word “permanence” was also used in the query. And I was kinda stumped for an answer.

I first harked back to something I had written to you earlier. I responded with flowery phrases about cultures, people, and the ease of it all. Which was all true. But I was also stalling for time. For you see, I’m really starting to lean towards a more permanent life here in Barcelona. But I wasn’t yet ready to discuss it. All of the ideas weren’t formed enough to invite a real investigation into the possibility. But what I did know then, and still know now, is that the real answer to the asked question was that I felt completely at home during Trip One, and then ten times that on Trip Two. And I have no reason to believe that when I return to this city it will be multiplied by a thousand. I have never before felt the way I do when I’m in Europe, and specifically when I’m in Barcelona. And that kind of emotional impact requires more than just a knee-jerk discussion.

OK, I’ve excited you enough for one day. Back to your satin pillows for a well deserved rest. More soonest.

Love, Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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