Photography

Indiana España

Welcome to Catalunya-  an 8 month adventure in Barcelona

I've had the good fortune to find an employer willing to sponsor me to work abroad for the next 8 months to become a competent global professional, aware policy maker, and all around more well-rounded human (thanks HP!). 

weiner dog art

I missed my flight. I ran to the gate with another bloke trying to get back to the UK. We stood panting and helplessly begging the Ryanair attendant to open the gate. The plane was right there! They haven't pulled the bridge away! Please for the sweet love of God.

Nothing.

MY WIFE IS HAVING OUR CHILD my terminal Y jogging partner began shouting.

*intensity intensifies*

His buddy backed him up. "Ya, mate. She's having his kid."

The attendant was Unmovable.

She didn't even try. This man was livid and took it upon himself to commence my education in British expletives (I'll refrain from sharing here, but I'm more than happy to impart some of the colorful phrasing another time). The angry father to be (still not sure if I buy it), found a way to take out his fury on every airport employee we passed on the walk of shame to the Ryanair customer service counter (located, for you convenience, on the other side of security!).

Passport control "thanks you bloody ignorant Wankers- you had to take two looks and now I've missed my flight and you are terrible Wankers and this is your fault"

Passport security looks at my passport and back at me "your friend?" He asks in a thick Spanish accent.

Big eyes. No. Nope. No sir.

"Stupid bloody English"  shaking his head, he hands me my passport. I laughed.

I'm still laughing about that one actually.

At the rescheduling desk my buddy that helped me sort out the boarding passes that morning is at the window. Angry dadtobe lays into the agents as I talk about rescheduling. "We shouldn't have to pay, the plane was still there we could have taken it –“ blah blah blah more British cursing…

I tried my best to make pleading, distancing eyes at the man behind the glass "please know I did not choose this guy" (granted, he was imbuing the situation with a certain desperate humor). They pushed grouchily to the window next to mine. The desk agent explained the situation to his colleague in quick Spanish. His female colleague informs them the next flight is this afternoon. They look at me incredulously- "SHE'S on a 10 am!"

"Senorita got the last seat."

I asked angrydadtobe if he was really trying to get back for a momentous event. He confirmed. I offered my spot to him if he was willing to split with his friend. He said something that I vaguely interpreted as dismissive and I booked it out.

On the plane. At last.  (5 open seats btw)

I also realize that I have been spending an inordinate amount of time recounting my humorous ineptitude at travel logistics. Believe me, I hope this is the last of it too.

Anywho. London.

 

Finally in Reading after an unexpectedly full day of travel, and like a good neighbor, Ryan had a bottle of Woodford and jar of chunky peanut butter there. (If I sing that will they appear? No? Ok.)

While the first portion of this visit was largely about work, I'm going to spare those details. EXCEPT to note that the Barcelona office is superior to the Reading office (sorry). It probably has something to do with all of the streaming sunlight, warm and funny coworkers, and great espresso.

While it wasn't my café con leche, Ryan took me to his favorite coffee spot conveniently located on the way to the train, Worker's. They make a mean pour over, which I haven't had since Palo Alto at Phil'z.

This was as good, and the pastries weren't nothin' either.

Admittedly, I have missed the long indulgence of a full cup of coffee... even how it lingers, getting cold and exponentially less enjoyable. There is something about nursing your caffeine addiction over the course of 40 minutes vs. 5 that has been missing from my life the past two months.

Ryan and I were London bound after work. At last.

London is my Gram's favorite city, and she had sent me with a mission to see the dome of St. Paul, so that was our first stop. After experiencing the infamous London underground, we emerged out of the tunnels into the grey fading light, and colder air than I had dressed for. Regardless of the chill, to which Ryan having had been in the UK for 3 months already was much more acclimated, I hunkered down to get some photos of that magnificent almost circle.

Other London classics to visit were on the list, but the immediate desire was for a libation and a warm booth, so we located a bar complete with brit-rock and gin before carrying on to Waterloo station by way of namesake bridge. The city was lit up, but my now Spanish acclimated body tempterature was more pervasive than the spirit of photography.

What I'm saying is that I didn't get a whole lot of photos of Londres..

 

Our Saturday was planned around making it to a local pub for a small blues concert in Reading. We opted for a hike along the canal and to the river Thames (the sun even peaked out a few times which I am told is a real treat). The 7ish mile wandering did not stay entirely on track, and we were both side tracking for photos like this golden retriever with ADD... making for a slow pace. 

Interestingly, aside from the quaint English towns, cobblestoned drives, and budding trees, a big highlight for me was finding what Ryan aptly described as the 'Denny's of England'. Hungry and not entirely sure where we were anymore, we popped into the Hungry Horse- complete with a menu containing a horseshoe of onion rings. Delightful.

We got some sloppy chili nachos. Spanish food was far away and my stomach kind of hurt but I was happy and we had another few miles of walking.

I had been going through some live music withdrawals and this blues show was the first live music set since having been particularly spoiled by a constant stream of shows in Champaign. It was a small room in the back of house- the front entrance had been converted to a bar and was quite cozy. Some Kenyan tune played and I had a brandy.

The Next Day I was bound again for Stansted airport. We had a parting croissant and pour-over coffee and I set off for my 2 hour journey to the airport. Determined to make the intended flight.

Let's just say the travel Gods have not been in my favor at any point on this trip. I make it cleanly through the airport and sit watching the gate assignment screen. Patiently. As the gate continues to pend and I notice some flights being canceled. I ask a woman working in a shop by the Oasis and she mentions that there is an Air Traffic Control strike in France. I'll probably be fine she says. A tiny seed of doubt in my stomach.

So I kept sitting, and watching the screen. London/Barcelona still green, but still no gate. Behind me a voice soars above the white noise of a crowded space "yeah my flight to Barcelona is canceled'. Panic stricken I searched the screen and saw my flight still on the board, but the 8 pm CANCELED in bright red. A brief moment of relief washed over me before logical thinking set it. That was probably the same plane that makes the Barcelona/London loop for Ryanair. If Barcelona is scratched for later then... yep. Pending gate turns bright red and I am CANCELED. Also about this time my wifi stops working. 

Like a disappointed zombie I shuffle out of the waiting area with a throng of disgruntled Ryanair passengers (refuuunnnds reffuuuunndss). To my ever increasing dismay the line at Ryanair customer service was quite literally chanting and on the verge of a riot. I took this all in and looked down at my serviceless phone, listening as looping intercom announcements pleaded Ryanair customers to rebook online. I ticked through my options, feeling more helpless and vulnerable than I can recall and bought yet another ticket for the Great Railway Express bound for Reading. "Hey Ryan. Who's your favorite friend?"

Tuesday was the next soonest departure, so I settled in for a couple more days in the UK and I decided to use my extra time to make up for the lack of photos I had taken- especially around the Reading coffee shop where I had spent so much time. 

After dinner on my unplanned Monday, a deep goosey cough had begun to settle in from the disgusting, sniffly having, dry hacking cold I thought was clearing up. The cold English air had other plans for me.

In hopes of preventing an even more miserable return route, I implored Ryan in a most defeated way to help me find a pharmacy. We wandered the isles of the local grocery hunting for cough drops and cold medicine. At last I stood at an end cap with my options laid out before me.

For a hazey moment I stared earnestly and asked "Do I need 'Chesty Cough', or 'Dry Tickly'?"

And thats where I came unhinged. Not in an airport, lost taxi, or train station, but in front of the Ricola cough drops and Chesty Coughs. The literality of the options sent me over the edge. I can imagine the scene was heinous for observers as I cried and coughed and laughed, something between tears and snot everywhere. 

When asked if I was ok, the best I could squeak out was 'drytickly' 

The Next Day I was bound for Heathrow Airport.

And then the news reports started to flood in. Bombing in Brussels. Two bombs in the airport. Injuries. Casualties. Departures. Terrorist attacks.

Then the metro. We were glued to the news. Us two Americans in Europe, who haven't been in proximity to an attack like this since 9/11 (aside from the astronomical amount of mass shootings and homicides but that is another story). 

The shock and sadness cuts a little harder when you are part of, and living in the European community. I thought of the new people in my life, who were from or had family in Brussels. The world had very suddenly become much smaller and much scarier. And again, I felt little and vulnerable as I morosely finished stuffing my socks in my backpack.

I tried to reason with statistics and chance, but this trip hadn't been holding odds in my favor thus far, and my heart was the loudest thing between my ears as I walked for a final coffee.

Taking in my cozy, hipster surroundings a final time, I noticed the weiner dog sketch in a frame in back. It seemed as if it was intended as un-ironically as all everything else in the UK. When I was younger, I compulsively read The Far Side, and Weiner Dog Art was one of my favorite collections- for obvious reasons. Oh Gary Larson.

Feeling a little lighter I chugged my last dose of Chesty Coughs and headed to Snappy Snaps (I kid you not) to print my boarding pass.

 

Finally, things went smoothly and I settled in to my seat on my flight back to Barcelona. 

Captain Jonathan Parkhouse was going to be our pilot today. A two hour and five minute flight with light refreshments.

Jonathan Parkhouse sounds like the kind of guy who could land a plane in a field of sunflowers if he had to.

Off the plane the air smelled perfect and I realized that it was the only place I wanted to be. My feet were thrilled to be back on the carved Spanish tiles outside of El Prat.

The Next Day walking to work through the now known winding Gracia alley's, the pleasant morning light seemed perfect and the kids in their fancy little school suits were hustled by their parents and men with their moped's smoked and sipped their  cafe solos and dogs ran to greet each other and the streets were swept.

And that's how, after a month and three quarters, Barcelona began to feel like home. I had been lovingly cultivating familiarity all this time and it took going away to know it.

 

Gotta run. It's raining on my laundry.

 

Lara Michaels