AND, WE’RE BACK! My apologies for not posting in so long. The entire What’s Up Smiley office (myself, Moleskine, dancing shoes) took a siesta from social media and spent most of June traveling around Catalonia and Andalucía, Spain, laying on the beach, drinking vino tinto, and watching the Euro Cup. Several highlights from the trip included:
-Driving along the Costa Brava, the rugged coast of northeast Spain, parking along the side of the road, and walking down a cliff to a desolate cove near Tossa del Mar to jump naked into cool, crystal clear green water, followed by a picnic lunch on the rocks of Penedès vino tinto, pan, tomate, queso manchego, olives, and jamón serrano so delicious my Jewish self wondered why the hell I had been avoiding ham all these years. Turned out the cove was not so desolate, and was a featured stop on a local boat cruise, so at least fifteen people were fortunate to see three (handsome) young men enjoying themselves—that a woman snapped a photo of my pale white buttocks was reaffirming.
-Waking up with the sunrise after falling asleep with the stars, camping in the woods near Cap de Creus Natural Park, and reading The Hunger Games as daylight broke in our makeshift tent (which consisted of a transparent plastic paint tarp tied by rope to two trees for shelter—Katniss would have been proud), followed by a morning swim in the soothing Mediterranean Sea and breakfast on the beach (crackers, queso manchego, tangerines).
-Enjoying an evening sunset throwing a frisbee with my friend Kevin in the company of Gaudí’s tiled love seats in Parc Güell in Barcelona, only to run into a kid I grew up with that I hadn’t seen since high school—he was in town for the Sonar Music Festival and kindly put us on the guest list for his DJ set the following day. The next night, it was two in the morning and I had been dancing on the beach for about five hours to Soul Clap, and received an invitation to attend a music festival in Budapest later this summer (no, I don’t play music at all, but my new Hungarian friends insisted I did or should and told me I had to come to Budapest in August, all expenses paid).
-Standing in awe while drinking “cerveza birra amigo” in a plaza in Barceloneta as a baby (seriously) not more than one year-old, who five minutes after breastfeeding from his mother, proceeded to throw fire crackers several feet away from me to celebrate Festival de Sant Joan, Barcelona’s summer solstice celebration. There were at least a half dozen moments that night when I nearly hit the deck scared shitless, having to remind myself that the constant explosions were not bombs or gunshots and I was not in a war zone or season four of The Wire, but children (and their mothers and grandmothers) were lighting off the loudest fireworks I have ever heard to celebrate the longest day of the year. With all due respect to the Fourth of July, Sant Joan puts Independence Day to shame—with constant (literally constant) lights exploding on every block and in every plaza in the city from dusk to dawn.
-Falling asleep under the cool afternoon shade of a palm tree in the pristinely beautiful gardens of La Alhambra in Granada, dreaming of the geometry of ancient civilization, water dripping slowly from the fountain of life, turquoise mosaics, stars and crescents, artists carving stories into arches, and endless fields of Andalusian orange trees.
While daydreaming in Granada, I imagined about living in a world that once was, and how we would live our lives today if today were like back then, so intricate and so precise and so enchantingly beautiful. What would we design? What would we build? How would we live?
Perhaps time would move more slowly, perhaps we would move more slowly, perhaps we would pay more attention to detail, to ourselves. Often on my trip, whether at La Alhambra or La Sagrada Familia, I noticed American (and Chinese) tour groups being shuffled, hastily, from photo op to photo op. I constantly wondered why they were moving so fast. Where were they going next? There is no “next” after La Alhambra, that’s it. It’s the encore. It’s perfection.
These people were not even taking composed or thoughtful pictures; they were being shuttled from guide book highlight to guide book highlight so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of their photos were blurry, and had the tour guide or other random tourists in the foreground. “Honey, this is La Sagrada Familia. Antoni Gaudí started working on it 1883 and they are still working on finishing it and will be for at least another fifteen years—and we were there for about twenty-five minutes, and here is a photo of some overweight dude named Jack (or was his name Barry?) wearing a hideous ‘NASCAR’ T-shirt, completely blocking Gaudí’s sun-kissed stained glass windows.”
I think if he were around today, Gaudí, or the 14th century builders of La Alhambra, might tell us to slow down and stop moving so quickly. Stop looking at your phone. Turn off your phone. Be quiet. Be still. Breathe. Listen. Listen to the arched walls of this place, listen to the space and the light and the math and the design and the wisdom and the greatness and the blue blending with the orange connecting with the green intersecting with the star with the water with the trees. Listen to yourself.
Travel quenches a thirst for life that nothing else can provide. It allows you to experience ancient civilizations and beautiful landscapes for the first time, as if you were the only person on the earth, as if the entire universe existed just for your pleasure. Hopefully I can create travel’s powerful sensations of slowing down, being present, living in the moment, listening to my surroundings, and listening to myself, in the course of my day-to-day life back in the brutally-fast-moving Estados Unidos. Or maybe I’ll just move to Granada, eat free tapas, and daydream under the palm trees until the polar ice caps melt or the World Cup begins.