Monday, July 27, 2009


The above is a doodle I did this afternoon, while still reflecting on the theme of heat...

The pics are of Mickey the cat, lazing about and looking for attention on a hot day....

I was looking for a word this morning that will not come to me, to describe my love/hate relationship with the sun and heat here. Because it is not hate, it is more like a patient intolerance, or sometimes not so patient, when the heat explodes into its thick, opressive endlessness, with no relief. And, yet, it is not intolerance either, because I can tolerate it - in fact, I think I could live in Barcelona, I like it so much - but perhaps it is exasperation? Anyways, there is always this struggle here from appreciating the sun and warmth, and wishing it would just ease off, if only for awhile....

There have been a few cooler moments, a gentle relief, if just for awhile... Of course there were the 2 days of truly torrential rain when the Tour de France came through (of course, the days that involved standing at a barricade for hours were the wettest! ah, irony...), but beyond that, a few precious hours here and there. This past week there have been evenings that after the sun has gone down, it has been cooler, though again that is not the right word, as "cool" and "Barcelona" in the summer simply cannot be used together. More like quiet warmth instead of oppresive heat, and the breeze feels lovely when it picks up. Although it is a warm wind that caresses the skin, and does not truly cool one off, it is pleasant and comfortable. On these nights it is lovely to sit on the terrace under the stars and just be. Or chat with my flatmates Jessica and Sean, visiting from Boise, Idaho. Still followed by a cool shower before bed, still the fan on, but generally easier to fall asleep as the heat isn't as deep in my bones.

And the mornings, if I wake early enough, are refreshing. Again, the terrace, as I sit in the shade and read while I have my breakfast. During the heat of the day, the terrace is impossible, though I will sometimes prop the umbrella and try to catch a break. More likely, to retreat indoors, or to be out and about in this fine city.

At the hottest moments, one ducks into stores that have air conditioning -- or if down at Plaza Catalunya will step into the doorways of the Ingles department store, where they have the most powerful and cold air conditioning blowing upon the entrances (I will step just inside and pretend to be studying the store directory, which is directly in the path of this relief). Otherwise, it's shade: the shady side of the street, the cafes with their huge shady umbrellas. And the ice cold beer or bottled water. Or gelato.

But the heat does take something out of me, as I have seemed to turn lazy this last week or so. Or maybe this is my body releasing years of work and go-go-go.... Perhaps a bit of both. For 4 or 5 days in a row I did not leave the little neighborhood where I am living (Sants), choosing the frequent the little cafes and markets here, rather than trekking about by the metro or bus. Not that I mind these, but it has been restful just to hang out. I guess I have been really living like a local this past bit. I've been working a fair amount too, so the pace has suited me.

Now I find myself with just three days left in Barcelona, and so much still to see. I had some moments of feeling rushed to now "do it all" but I let go of that pretty quickly, as that's not my travel style, and I want enjoyment, not agendas. The realization that I want to return to Barcelona again at some point during this year in Europe has put my mind at ease. So I will still see a few more things, but I won't sweat it (pun not intended!), while still enjoying moments of reading or doodling in the sidewalk cafes.

Today I have some work to do though, so blogging is the perfect way to avoid it ;-) In truth, the time difference suits me quite well here, as being 9 hours ahead of Vancouver gives me a whole day to deliver something promised in the morning. So it is that I am sitting down at 1pm here to do a few hours work (after getting up twice, I was up fairly early, but fell asleep reading on the terrace, so lay down and slept again, an early siesta!). Depending on how the work goes, I shall probably send in my work around 5pm here (8am Vancouver), then head out to enjoy myself.

One good thing is that I have some colour in me now - no pale sun starved skinned girl here - and along with catching up on sleep I think I am looking more rested and relaxed than in years. That can only be a good thing.
Post script, later the same evening...
Ironically, this evening has turned out to be the coolest since arriving in Barcelona. This afternoon as I sat in an outdoor cafe and doodled on the theme of heat (pic above) the wind picked up and it was actually cool on my skin. Lovely. Some people next to me were shivering, probably locals who are used to the heat. Me, it was just a nice break. This evening in my room, I still have my fan on, as it keeps the air circulating, but I had to turn it down from the medium setting, as it was a little too cool! And, just now, on the terrace, after midnight, under the stars, it was refreshingly cool. Yes, cool can be used. Veeery nice.
Just checked the temperature, it's 24C, so I guess my definition of cool has evolved....
Thinking back on my reflections earlier, I was focused on the downside of the heat... But said little about the "love" side of the equation.... I love that I never have to give a thought to another layer or wishing I'd brought sleeves (not that I wear those often anyways); I love the way my body is relaxed from the heat; I love the bright light the sun brings here; I love feeling warm; I love all the realizations I have in the heat that go, "Wow, I am IN Spain!!!"; I love all the trees in this city, lots of shade; I love the wide boulevards with trees down the middle; I love how many cafes have outside seating under huge umbrellas; I love much about the sun - it beats out the downsides, for sure.
Other heat observations and reflections:
  • To sleep on a really hot night here, I have found the trick is to have an icy cold shower just before bed, soak a towel in water and spread it over my naked body, and leave the fan on high. It helps. Believe it or not, the towel dries overnight, and I've been known to redouse it part way through the night.
  • The trick is to always be well hydrated here. Lugging a couple 1.5L or 2L bottles of water up the 68 stairs every day is a bit of a chore, but you get used to it... Nothing worse than running low on water!
  • Always have 2 big bottles of water... keep one in the fridge and one in my room - every few hours switch them, so as to enjoy cold water.
  • One day I came home after a day out and had a drink of water from the bottle in my room... it was reaaaallly warm - as in the temperature of a cup of tea after it has cooled for about 10 minutes... didn't taste all that pleasant!
  • Carry a bottle of water when leaving to go out for the day, it's cheaper than buying one immediately while out.
  • They have cold water in the pop machines on the metro platforms - nice touch!
  • I bought a bottle of Spanish red wine (1.79E) and left it in my room (as I have been conditioned to drink red wine at room temperature), then cracked it a few days later... I confess to adding a couple of ice cubes to bring it down to a drinkable state
  • Some stores here have signs in the window that loosely mean "local temperature" - in other words, no air conditioning - I guess a warning sign to fend off tourists who come in and then complain
  • People here really do all go out and walk in the evenings, enjoying the fresh and somewhat cooler air
  • Lots of people carry fans - and I sometimes do (Mabel, whose apartment I am sharing, brought me back a truly lovely hand-painted fan from Seville - a special treasure and useful too!
  • Some of the metro trains have awesome air conditioning! Unfortunately, not all of them (the rest have "ok" AC) - but it's a crapshoot, never know what you will get!
  • It pays to get to know which entrance to use for the Metro stations you use most often, otherwise there are a lot of up and down stairs going above/below tracks
  • Don't let anyone tell you that people don't wear shorts in Europe!!! That may be the case in Paris (as I soon will find out for myself) but Barcelona is super casual and you see shorts more than anything else here


Karen said...

Love the doodle, Roberta - that's beautiful! The colors are fantastic!

I've really been enjoying reading your blog - such an amazing trip!

Roberta said...

Thanks!! Please tell me which Karen you are (give me your initial), I have at least 3 I know well who are following along... ;-)

Karen said...

LOL - I thought of that when I realized my Blogspot profile just shows my first name. This is Karen V :-)

Roberta said...

Hey Karen V, I thought it was a good chance it was you! ;-) Hi there, and I am glad you are enjoying my journey... Roberta