They don't speak Spanish in Barcelona.
They can, but they don't. The signs are all labeled in threes or fours: Catalan, Spanish, French, followed by occasional English. However, wandering up and down streets in search of my hostel, there was barely a person who acknowledged me when I spoke Spanish, much less answered.
Beautiful cobblestone and terraces, it wasn't a hardship to be lost. The Barcelona sun seemed glitter from every angle, despite the 4 and 6 story buildings framing thin streets. Trees and tall green plants grew from seemingly nowhere, clearly cared for as much as the creative architecture. Spring clung to the air, heavy and airy all at once, giving a sensation of vibrant peace.
Spain was one of those places that, honestly, just hadn't crossed my mind up until this point. I had previously been to some of the other major European giants; Portugal, France, Italy, England - but Spain, the logical next European country to visit aside from The Netherlands or Germany, just hadn't made the list. However, after a year of deep and lasting change and recent heartbreak without explanation or reason, the invitation from my Argentinian flatmate, Jesus, to meet up in Barca was a welcome one.
"Por supuesto, cuando vamos?"
Jesus had been crucial in my transition to fluent Spanish while living in Peru, mostly in confidence. Despite the countries having the same national language, his Cordoban Spanish was hard and foreign to Cusquenans, while mine had been shaped and formed in the mountains above Valle Sagrada. Peruvians simply understood me better than he, which he found vaguely insulting, but mostly comedic. So he would tote me around in order to purchase things at the markets so he wouldn't have to repeat himself.
None of this fluency helped me on the streets of Barcelona.
Arriving the following day, Jesus' travel plans meant that my inability to find a hostel would be my own burden to bear. But the burden wasn't at all an unpleasant one, and in fact was a delightful change from the Tuscan hillside I was currently residing on. Not that living in San Miniato was anything but magical; it was the utmost joy to play with infant triplets all day next to an olive grove or on the coast or meandering through downtown Florence. But my recent heartache, trying to move on without understanding or closure, needed the change of pace and scenery.
Finally on Via Laietana, a street mentioned to me by Jesus, I headed North, away from the Ocean. It was still fairly early in the day, so I took my time being invisible and unknown. There is something magical about being somewhere no one speaks your language (or won't speak your language) or knows who you are. It is a joy I think everyone should experience. You learn about yourself when you are alone, and what you learn is important. There is a magic in you that is only visible when you are alone, discovering how to be comfortable in your discomfort.
The smell of coffee and chocolate weighed in on me from each cafe. And the sun was started its descent toward evening. Being lost would need to end so that I could find a place to sleep. Eventually I heard the familiar harsh nature of English amongst the constant whir of Catalan and turned my head. An Irish Pub, of course. There is always an Irish Pub.
The door was framed with green and the inside seemed earthy and welcoming in the way that everything from Ireland does. I found my way to a seat at the bar and a clearly Irish bartender smiled over a clean glass he was toweling off.
"What c'n I get fer you, love?" His accent was welcome rather than trite.
"How did you know I spoke English?" I cocked my head at him, trying not to smile.
"You had the look about you. There is a look English speakin' folk get when they walk by and recognize the language. They don't always walk in tho' - I'm glad you did." He smiled through a full brown beard. The charm was thick, but he asked my name and where I was staying and poured me a Guinness without asking me again what I wanted. I took it. Heavy and effervescent all at once, it felt like the right thing to be drinking in the early afternoon, lost in an unknown city where no one spoke my language.
"I've never had Guinness before." I mentioned, taking another sip.
"N'er? Well it's probably just what you need then."
Shawn, as his name fit perfectly into the cliche of it all, let me know about a hostel just next door that I could get a discount with as he knew the owner - as long as I promised to come in for drinks after getting settled. He walked me next door and chatted with an older man behind the counter. Four beds to a room and a shared lavatory down the hall, but Shawn negotiated an empty room for me until the weekend so I could get settled without having to fuss with roommates. He left me with my word that I would make my way back down to the bar before closing.
As lovely as it was to be unknown, it was equally as wonderful to be known.