It took a weekend for my host family to realize that they would not have the pleasure of showing me around their city. It took another weekend for them to realize that I could probably do a better job of showing them around their city. After all, I refer to Barcelona as my second home; I know the metro lines better than the freckles on the back of my hand.
But just when I think I know and understand the wonders of its ways, Barcelona surprises me with something new. Sometimes it’s a mural on a little side street that I never noticed; sometimes it is a view that stretches all the way down to the ocean that I never saw because I was looking forward; sometimes it’s just a moment, the way that the sun illuminates a street for five minutes before tucking itself behind a building. But always it is humbling to know that Barcelona will hold a small element of mystery, that there are still strange streets to wander and special nooks to find.
I stumbled across one gem during La Mercè, hoping to catch my breath after wading through the crowds around Plaça de Sant Jaume. While walking down Carrer de la Ciutat, I saw a building that advertised itself as the “Inspiration Space of Barcelona” (Espai d’inspiració de Barcelona); the window displayed the current exhibition inside: Sketching Barcelona. Intrigued and desperate for a little quiet, I walked into the building and asked if the exhibition was open to the public for free. It was: I later learned that I was actually inside city hall in a part of the building known as the Sala Ciutat, a public space dedicated to the values of the city of Barcelona.
I was immediately enamored. Artists sketched their neighborhoods, giving an insider’s perspective to a city whose economy is based on tourism. For two hours, each artist took my hand and guided me through their neighborhood, taking me to their favorite park, the most vibrant market, the quirkiest bar, the most authentic restaurant, and the best views that their barri had to offer. The sketches included little descriptions and addresses of the various points of interest, which I frantically typed into my phone.
Now I have a new list of streets to wander down, restaurants to try, bars to grab a drink at, parks to enjoy, buildings to admire, and markets to explore. Just as a bit of rain pulls all the pollution from the city sky, Barcelona was made fresh and new to me. The artists had achieved exactly what the building advertised—a space for inspiration. My notions of the city, I realized, were still sketchy. Although I had already lived in Barcelona for a year, there were still complete neighborhoods that I had left entirely untouched. Not for long, though: after all, I have a list of new adventures to be had. Most of them involve food and alcohol. Please don’t judge me.