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  • Writer's pictureElliot K

Without Borders

Updated: Mar 30, 2023



I went solo travelling abroad for the first time, and all I got was this lousy blog post. And a duck.


I've sort of lost my knack for writing unnecessarily long blog posts after recent excursions, in part due to their aforementioned wordy nature. In fact, more recently, I've taken to journalling on holiday because I'm better than you. Journals are like blogs, except there's more of a justification for no-one reading them.


Last week's destination of choice was, for the third time in a decade, the Catalonian capital of Barcelona. It was the first time I'd ventured abroad on a solo adventure, but I suspect it won't be the last. I've pulled out a few of my favourite moments and shoved them into a vague anthological structure below. Enjoy.

 
Basilica

La Sagrada Familia interior
La Sagrada Familia

Gaudí was hit by a tram. No, not recently.


Chapter 6.1 of the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia audio guide talks you through the construction of the Crypt, where the big man himself is buried, and in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it comment from the narrator you learn that Mr. G died as a result of injuries sustained from a number 30 tram along Gran Via in the city centre. For someone hailed as a pioneer in the late 19th and early 20th century Modernism movement, it's a heck of an underwhelming way to go.


La Sagrada itself is an impressive structure. I'd passed on the opportunity to look inside during previous visits, but felt inclined to splash out on a €26 ticket on this occasion. Was it worth it? Perhaps. The nave was an impressive, cavernous space, and the stained glass windows were striking.


La Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar interior
La Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar

Sitting in the heart of the Ribera district of Barcelona, the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar is a far more modest structure, though equally formidable in its size. My visit to La Sagrada took up most of the morning; I visited the second church that evening at the suggestion of a hostel roommate. The structure was built by and for local lower-class residents in the early 14th century, with various upgrades and repairs made in the centuries since.


One of the most notable repair projects took place less than a century ago, after a fire broke out during the Spanish Civil War. Luckily, funds were raised for repairs, with the local football club - yes, that one - providing financial support in exchange for an inclusion of their coat of arms in one of the stained glass windows.

 
At a Loss for Words

Though the hostel had a kitchen, I spent most evenings opting for a meal made by staff for hostelgoers. It was four to a table in most cases, though I found myself sitting with a lone gentleman when I arrived in the bar.


He looked down at his phone nervously, before enquiring: "¿Hablas español? no hablo ingles." Do you speak Spanish? I don't speak English.


From my limited experience, I get the impression that English is the language of choice in most European hostels due to how frequently it is taught across the continent, combined with the amount of English-speaking content there is widely available in media. In my first day or two at the hostel, I'd become complacent in that fact, something which was likely going to make for an interesting evening of conversation with my new companion.


In semi-conversational, GCSE-level Spanish, I explained that I knew enough to get by, but that tenses and conjugations (read: some of the most important parts of any language) were a weakness of mine. With that in mind, we proceeded gingerly.


He introduced himself as Fernando, a tailor from Argentina who was visiting family in Mallorca but had to pass through Spain for a night en-route. We spoke about football, Messi's performance at the World Cup, and the city which we both found ourselves in. For what could have been a mortifying experience, our conversations were really enjoyable.


Ding ding! A new player has entered the game.


"Do you mind if I sit here? I've only just arrived."


Hetty was a nurse from Germany who was also only in Barcelona for the night. However, unlike Fernando, she didn't speak Spanish, though her English was near-fluent.


Ah.


I explained the linguistic predicament that we found ourselves in, but offered to persevere as a poorly-equipped translator for the remainder of the meal. Thus followed a frantic yet bizarrely insightful duologue between three people.


Fernando described his family's restaurant in Mallorca, and how he was looking forward to seeing them. Hetty spoke about the frequency with which her family and friends came to her with common ailments, expecting medical advice 24/7. I relayed this back and forth between the pair with speed and imprecision, stumbling frequently on slightly-less-than-common verbs like "to teach" (enseñar) or to run (correr), utilising Google Translate more and more frequently as I slowly fatigued cognitively.


It seemed as though Fernando and Hetty were enjoying each other's company to the point where, when I declined the tiramisu that was served for desert, the two of them fought a war of manners as to who would have my portion.


"No, you can have it, I insist!"

"¡No necesito más, te lo puedes comer!"


"Los idiomas no tienen fronteras," remarked Fernando towards the end of our meal.


I don't understand, what is 'fronteras'? I replied, whilst Hetty waited patiently for a crude translation.


He gestured with his hands, drawing a line like a wall. Slowly, I understood. Fernando had accurately defined the single most obvious take-away from a remarkably enjoyable evening between three strangers in two languages, almost proving his point in the process of explaining it.


Fronteras means 'borders'. Language has no borders.

 
Power

The eighth of March is International Women's Day. What year? Every year.


I spent last IWD in Dublin, where a vocal, sprawling mass of impassioned women, men and non-binary people took to O'Connell Street, delaying trams in the process. Though I had been aware of the date during my afternoon exploring the city, it hadn't crossed my mind until the evening that there might be a similar rally this year in the second-most populous city in Spain.


You could hear it before you saw it. Drums, chanting, a wall of unrestrained, self-sustained passion, furore, anguish at the rampant inequality still present in the world we live in.



The central lanes of the Gran Via were occupied as far as the eye could see to the south-west. Blocks and blocks of marchers seeking equity. Some were reserved; for them, being in attendance was protest enough. Others held banners, signs, torches. Pieces of cardboard held phrases, paragraphs, statistics. Some used Spanish, others wrote in English, but they needn't have worried about the message being lost in translation.



My instinct as a photographer, even when 'off-duty', is to document. In this case, it was but a small gesture to show support for the cause that was being fought for. People often hyperbolise in these scenarios, but there really were women of all ages at the rally: little girls on their parents' shoulders; older women holding hands with their friends and relatives.


A group of teenagers appeared in front of me as a I stood to one side on the reservation. I made eye contact with a young woman brandishing a sign in English. She paused when she noticed my camera.


She stopped. The sign stayed aloft.


I captured.


Nodded, unspeaking.


She echoed.


The group moved on. The revolution continued.



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