It is noisy outside my window. A little boy cries, imploring his mother to buy him something from the store on the corner. A gelato perhaps? An ambulance blares in the distance, a sound that has become second nature in this busy city. The days blur together. Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? I have no idea.
Tomorrow, I will have been here for one month. A month of an experience that is already, almost too much for words. I have taken hundreds of pictures. Thousands, perhaps, and still it does not begin to capture, simply cannot capture what this month has been.
Last week I was standing in the Plaça St. Jaume watching the Castellers. It was a creation of human towers; of men, women and children climbing high into the air. One by one, they climb on each other. One layer at a time, locking arms, holding each other up until as one, they rise high into the sky, like Yertle the Turtle climbing to the top of the turtle pile.
One by one, up they go. Bracing one another with a strength that seems much more than humanly possible until, after reaching heights that too, seem almost unthinkable, a small child climbs to the very tip top, standing for a moment to acknowledge the roars of the crowd that packed the plaza before slithering down the backs of the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters that held her steady. One tiny little human, the final punctuation point on this magnificent group effort, climbing on the backs of the men and women below, their arms and legs shaking under the weight, bending, but not breaking.
On Saturday I went with a friend and her husband to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a Basque city on the northern edge of Spain that has been revitalized by the stunning titanium and marble building by Frank Gehry. To call it a building does not do it justice. This is no ordinary museum. It is alive, a structure in motion, with titanium scales that move as the light washes over them. Outside, an enormous spider envelops in fog. Art unlike anything I have ever seen before.
Inside, Christian Boltanski’s exhibit brings me to tears. I have never been one to like modern art, favoring the predictable images of the Italian Renaissance or the Dutch Masters, but my reaction to Boltanski’s collection of black and white photographs illuminated by incandescent light bulbs stuns me. For an instant I am transported to my grandfather's dark room in the basement of their Brooklyn apartment. I feel ten years old. I think of my father. My grandparents. Days that seem long ago. Our faces, he says, in the accompanying audio recording, carry the people who have come before us. They live on in us.
Twice a week I sit in a café with a woman I have recently met. We are doing an intercambio. For two hours we speak, first in English and then in Spanish. We are practicing, she and I. I am old enough to be her mother. She is a recent graduate from the University of Barcelona. We talk about the University, her job search and my travels. We share stories about family and politics and life. We are helping each other. The conversations ebb and flow as I struggle for a word that escapes my middle aged brain. I pause. We laugh. We want to communicate. She is patient with me and gradually, I am getting better. On my walk back to my apartment, a smile crosses my face. For the first time since we have been meeting, I realize I understand.
The students write about their experiences in a weekly journal. Their education extends far beyond the classroom. They are learning more than they could ever have imagined. Experiencing things they could never have dreamed of.
It’s been an unbelievable month. I can hardly wait to see what the next month has in store.