The past few months have been quite the blur of adventure and study, with a jam-packed spring break moving into a peanut-butter fueled revision period, I have left my impressions to spread together and will now attempt to sandwich them into a series of moments.
Surfing in the Atlantic Ocean:
Friends that I met up with in the unique and richly historical city of Lisbon prompted the idea of a surfing lesson, and I of course, infrequently saying ‘no’ to opportunities, jumped on board. Once I was acclimated to the icy saltwater and able to catch the waves into the shore, I learned what life could feel like standing on my own two feet. Riding the tide in that special, momentous occasion was a synecdoche for my year, hopefully extending beyond, and it will be embraced indefinitely.
It wasn’t all smooth landing naturally, bailing off the board in various fashion to tumble on the shore and acquire a collection of bruises and sand sores. During one collision with the saltwater, My ankle became entwined with the rope attached to the board and I had a split second of panic as the oxygen above was more challenging to attain and I had to wriggle my ankle free to rise to the surface.
Wrestling with and reveling in that beautiful sea is one way of describing my experience studying abroad, but it is in no way conclusive. Wind and waves will continue, and I aim to chase the surging sun with more enthusiasm than ever (or at least until we succeed in destroying the planet and it explodes).
Barcelona and I became lovers. In a similar experience to my first trip to Europe, Paris five years ago, there was nothing in Barcelona that didn’t dazzle and exceed any expectation I naively granted. With weather comparable to the hot breath of God dispersed pleasantly by the flapping wings of angels, I made my way to Park Guell, just a short climb up a hill. To give the rare talent of Miley Cyrus possibly credit, or more appropriately her lyricists, it is indeed, the ‘Climb’. Off the tourist trail, marked by English advertisement, I wove through random neighborhood streets, stopping only to browse secondhand shop stoops for books–purchasing some in hopes of someday being multi-lingual– and to smell the odd flower or two, I found myself at the entrance to the park.
Not so much park as a cultural art haven and tropical forest, Park Guell soon became a canvas for me to paint my thoughts onto and challenge myself to do it absolute justice. Foregoing the overpriced (but I imagine worthwhile) inner garden with the Gaudi structures, I took alternative, winding routes up through the pathways marked solely by my feet’s decision, moving faster than decisive impulse into a rhythm of their own guidance.
With bursts of breathtakingly beautiful views, my brain quickly became an eruption of delight and anticipation for more height. Not being able to handle the joy that this mountain was offering up to me, I tried to disperse it to strangers, making it a mini-mission to find as many couples or groups of people who I could and ask them if they wanted their picture taken with the view of the city in the background. When I helped to capture the moments for others, I felt like I was grasping it more strongly myself and when was asserting myself as a human selfie-stick, I ascended to the peak.
The top of Park Guell is uniquely rugged and quiet for such a visited place. I expect many blink past the unmarked, but accessible hike in favor of a paved surface, sparkling sculptures of Gaudi holding their gaze. I would argue that it is a shame but I was happy to tread upon the rocky cap with only a few others and a bumbling retriever as company. Picking out a comfortable couple of stones, I sat down, pulled out the spanish copy of ‘On the Road’ that I just impulse purchased and attempted to reconcile my thoughts into words. Not entirely successful, I recalled that I had a chocolate filled pastry in my rucksack and all was right with the world. One significant piece of advice that I feel necessary to impart is the necessity of pairing an exquisite view, particularly when worked toward physically, with an exquisite dessert. I had never been so wealthy. After about an hour of serenity and a final “salud!’ to the scene, I made my way down, feeling higher than ever.
La Sagrada Familia:
I have heard many express their disinterest in visiting old, famous European churches, asserting ‘Once you’ve seen a few, you have basically seen them all’. I will now react by recalling Gaudi’s masterpiece and many other unique places of worship, and smile to myself, tapping into a secret that I hope all will discover. Confused and a bit overwhelmed by the ornate and fantastical outside of La Sagrada Familia, my first steps into the church were more of a stumble.
Shocked by radiant color, whose glow seemed to be sourced in something higher than the cloud-covered sun, I fell into the splendor of the emblematic temple. The most beautiful building I have ever seen, the space stunned my soul into silence while awakening a fervor of emotion, resulting in stagnant tears , welled in my mesmerism, perpetual and unyielding to the blinking of minutes past. I had to sit down. Perched in center pews, my friend and I non-verbally conversed with our surroundings. Imparted with spiritual and visual impressions, I felt I could revel in one spot for hours without feeling restless or the usual muscle aches in a basic wooden pew. Shapes and phrases scattered with perfect spatial positioning lined the surfaces and each image held power as a collective force of art to be sensed. Yet each was also individually expressive and prompted a chain of signification that surprised and overturned some of the usual foundations and inclinations of my mind.
When daylight was retreating and it felt not horribly wrong to depart, we left the church in a beautiful tragedy. Experiencing something so life-giving and inspirational, alike making friends while traveling, not knowing when you will meet again is similarly tragic to the church itself. Antoni Gaudi, having been fatally run down by a tram before the completion of the church, completed his life with an incomplete project, a masterpiece which others have continued and will eventually finish with his plans. A tragic accident, struck returning from prayer and confession, Gaudi’s tragedy is resoundingly beautiful, posthumously sharing not only edification of the church with others, but allowing for continued, and likely never fully completed, dispensed and eternal creation.
Another significantly fortunate trip, I was left to wonder when my blessings would be disrupted and the peaks fall. Experiencing new things in Lisbon with special friends was the ideal situation, surfing, snails and sangria not failing to delight. Again experiencing solo travel, in Barcelona I was surrounded by warmth and kindness from fellow travelers and locals, strangers rapidly made friends. I was embraced by traces of Nabokov, as I walked into my large hostel room, noticing immediately one of my favorite novels, ‘Lolita’ adorning my neighbors bunk. I became wrapped in the narrative of a childhood classic, ‘Before Sunrise’, as the rising action of the trip was a delightful friendship with a fellow Cosetta’s enthusiast and the next reformer of Wall Street. Animals entered into the story, observing and appreciating seagull patterns of flight and making connections to many aspects of life with a beautiful Brazilian buddha whose sage company I will cherish. Language ceased to be a barrier, although I received many incredulous remarks when I confirmed, that I, ‘Maria’, did not speak a lick of Spanish. Understanding is different however, and I was able to experience this first-hand, conversing by other means, with hand gestures, body language, and laughter taking the place of words as we enjoyed the music of Mr. Marley who expressed the words we found superfluous.