Wednesday, December 9, 2009



“Those who search in the laws of nature to create new works collaborate with the Creator.” --Unknown

BARCELONA. Uttering the name of my favorite city makes me smile. I feel at home here. I always have.

From the mountains of Tibidabo, I behold the city of my dreams, lovingly cupped by the slopes of the land.

“Huele a Baguio,” I tell my friends. It smells like Baguio.

The scent of pine swirls in the wind. Our host, Catalan artist Frederic Amat, plucks a golden rose from his garden of pine, cypress and olive trees. “For you,” he says grandly. I bury my face in the petals. I am transported to 40 Kisad Road, Baguio City, to my childhood home in the mountains, where my mother always kept a vase of fresh roses from the garden. The roses were mostly red and gold, the colors of Catalonia.
From this hillside perch in the neighborhood of Vallvidrera, looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea, I spot some of Barcelona’s landmarks: the Sagrada Familia basilica built by Catalonia’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, and the two towers erected for the 1992 Olympic Games which powered the city’s renewal.

My own history in this city begins in 1983: I am in Barcelona for my senior year of high school. I am sixteen, a transplant from an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school in England. I live with a foster family: “mi mamá española”, as I call her, is a nurse named Petri who works in a hospital in the outskirts of the city; “mi hermana española”, Maricarmen, is a student exactly my age. We have each wished for a sister all our lives, and now we have each other.

We bask in the excitement and constancy of sisterhood, and indulge in the company of each other’s friends. We sit at outdoor cafes and soak in the sunshine while sipping bitter–tart Fanta Limón. Like other teenagers, we go for strolls on Las Ramblas, described by the poet Federico García Lorca as “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” The tree-lined Ramblas teems with tourists, flower vendors, bird keepers and performance artists.

We wander the interiors of these dimly lit clubs, and dance until beads of moisture blanket our backs. By 9 P.M., we are walking home, the wind drinking the sweat on our satisfied faces.

Some Sunday afternoons, we dance to Euro pop at local dance clubs, or at the warehouse venues like Studio 54 (pronounced “estudio cincuenta y cuatro”), named after its famed sister discotheque in New York. Doors open to teenagers at the wholesome hour of 5pm. We wander the interiors of these dimly lit clubs, and dance until beads of moisture blanket our backs. By 9 P.M., we are walking home, the wind drinking the sweat on our satisfied faces.

My year in Barcelona is a year of awakening. Coming from four years in England, I emerge like a butterfly from the chrysalis I have spun for protection in the emotionally cold landscape of boarding school. The sun literally warms my skin. On the inside, I am warmed by the maternal and sisterly love and companionship of Petri and Maricarmen.

One Sunday afternoon in the spring of my seventeenth year, I meet a boy while dancing. His name is César. He is half Spanish, half Italian, and studying to be a football coach. He treats me with utmost respect and tenderness: a proper gentleman at seventeen. We stroll hand in hand, sit on the benches of Parc de la Ciutadella and Parc Güell, and kiss ardently in the shade of Mediterranean palms. We are each other’s first loves.

My year in Barcelona ends with a massive flood of tears. I cry for three days and experience what it means to have no tears left. On the last day of the school year, my friends and I stay up all night and watch the day dawn in Parc Güell. We sit on the ground, in the stillness of early morning, and give reverence to what has been the best year of our lives. Gaudi’s mosaic sculptures watch silently.

This is second of three excerpts we're running from the book Connecting Flights, a travel book, an anthology of poems, stories and essays by 20 Filipino writers on 20 foreign destinations. Edited by Ruel S. De Vera, with poems, stories and essays by Dean Francis Alfar, Butch Dalisay, Lourd De Veyra, Karla Delgado, Chato Garcellano, Ramil Digal Gulle, Jing Hidalgo, Alya Honasan, Marne Kilates, Sarge Lacuesta, Ambeth Ocampo, Charlson Ong, Manuel Quezon III, D.M. Reyes, Sev Sarmenta, Alice M. Sun-Cua, Yvette Tan, Joel Toledo, Krip Yuson and Jessica Zafra.

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