We just arrived in Barcelona, our new home base. Our forever home. Coming off the flight from Bucharest, I was a little nervous. We hadn’t been here in six months. Would we still love it? Is this really the place? Would my kids love it?
My heart just sings, “yes” the moment we land. I love that things are in Spanish and I can once again understand people. I love that it’s bilingual and there’s Catalan signs everywhere. I love that you can go to Plaza Espanola or Plaza Catalunya or La Rambla and be absolutely overrun with tourists, just feel the energy of all these people on vacation — but then you can take the metro to your quiet neighborhood and say “Hola, Bon Dia” to the guy sitting outside your apartment building without another soul in sight.
I feel emotional coming back this time. I know, this is it. This is the city where I’m going to raise my kids, these are the languages they will grow up speaking, this is the community they will always call home. I’m glad I got to travel to other parts of Europe this summer to satisfy that “what if’s” about San Sebastian, France, Italy, and Eastern Europe. I didn’t get the same feeling, so the question was quickly answered for me. There’s something calming about knowing.
In Barcelona, we’re in interesting times. This region of Spain, the majority of the east coast, speaks Catalan. Historically they were ruled under the Crown of Aragon, until they joined with the Castille empire (out of Madrid) and eventually lost their sovereignty as rulers changed, wars were fought, dictators came into power. These days they are fighting to keep their language and culture, this forgotten Aragon footprint, swallowed up by history and Castilian Spain.
On Sunday, they vote for independence. The Spanish government has fought it, declared it illegal, but they have vowed to vote anyway. It won’t be binding, but it will matter.
I think of Barcelona differently, now. I think part of it is that when I lived in Romania, I was so aware of the Roman influence. Romanian is a Latin-based language, left when the Roman empire deserted the country in 200 AD. It remained, isolated, for over a 1,000 years before Western Europeans started moving back into the country… German, Dutch, Austrians and so on. Somehow the language remained and there are parts of the language that directly tie back to it’s Latin roots in ways that French, Spanish, Italian and other romance languages do not. It was a moment in time, captured in language, preserved for a millennia, an unexpected cultural artifact.
I think of the map of the Roman Empire then and the map of Romance languages now. The wave of Romans covered most of Europe, but when the empire receded, like a tide, only little pockets of language remained. Romania is one, but as you move west, it’s all slavic languages, the influences of other empires.
This little discovery has made me more curious of about the history of other places, to think of the forgotten empires that once thrived, the languages that remained, the inherited foodstuffs and traditions that we so often ignore, but if you stop and think about it, it’s amazing. Truly amazing, to eat a dish that came over from 2,000 years ago and people just kept making it.
These things: food, culture, heritage, language, history — they are important.
Part of what brought me here was their fierce defense of their culture… raising multilingual children in a place where they care so much about their heritage seemed like the best way to bring my kids closer to other people like them. It feels different to be here, more different from anywhere else we’ve traveled, because even though we will leave again (travel plans await), this is now the place we come back to. I started my Catalan lessons online this week. I’m reading the local papers and Catalan-language websites. I can make connections here. I can put in the time. I am not short-timing it, waiting for something better. I can decide to belong.
I have no idea what will happen with this vote, but I suspect it will pass and then Madrid will have to decide how to handle that. There’s a lot of international law debates over whether or not Catalunya is even allowed to leave Spain. It won’t be resolved anytime soon. But I’m glad to be here, to see it.