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Saturday 11 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales : Hola - by Nicky Galliers

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Here's another 'inspired by a song ' story that was posted
on Discovering Diamonds 
a review site for historical fiction
can you guess the song
Barcelona, City, Spain, Sagrada Familia
clue... royalty sings!
As my plane touched down, I realised what it felt like to be completely alone.
The landscape was alien, dry, arid, flat and yet not; mountains ringed a city set into a bowl that tipped into the sea; the sun beat down on a row of palm trees that waved in a long line outside the airport.
I knew no one here, the apartment rental arrangements had been handled by an agency, and my grasp of the language was rudimentary at best. That was why I was here, after all.
A taxi cost more than the Aerobus, but the taxi would take me where I needed to go whereas the bus left me somewhat short.
 Trenta-cinq pesetas,’ the driver said. What? That was not in my lessons. I forced myself to relax and my French popped up and helped. Thirty-five. I handed over two of my two thousand peseta notes and left him with the change. I heaved my suitcase out of the boot, unaided, and as he drove away from me I looked around.
The sun scorched what it touched. Window shades that were attached like flags to the outside of every building were a uniform pale yellow, their stripes a mere memory. On the opposite side of the street the shade was deep and dark and I wished I was there, instead of here in the full force of the violent sun.
My apartment was at number eight, and it was, thankfully closer than I had expected.
Press the button for number four, my instruction from the landlady on how to use the lift. ‘Only use to go up,’ she had said, in Spanish. Sólo arriba, like to a child. But I was a child.
Around me was Spanish and a language that I was told was Catalan. It sounded like Portuguese, but was written like French. The TV was in both. The radio blared out Catalan. I understood none of it, not a single word. The books in the apartment were in Spanish, some in Catalan, their titles looking familiar but on closer inspection, meaningless to me.
The supermarket my landlady had directed me to, after some blank looks from me and a hastily scribbled map of a street system that was entirely on a grid, was filled with unfamiliar things – they looked right but the names were wrong. Shopping was anxiety-ridden, an attempt to buy what I thought I needed without asking any questions. I could ask but I was certain I wouldn’t understand the answers.
I carried my purchases in white carrier bags with a strange name printed on them. They were heavy with pasta and Spanish biscuits, a long loaf like a baguette but shorter, thicker; coffee; teabags that had appeared apologetic on the shelf. I threw them in the lift and hauled them out at my door. Closing that door against the foreign world beyond was a relief. I had done it, bought food, and I was exhausted with the mental effort it had required.
I was a loner. I was a stranger, adrift in a world that seemed familiar but that I couldn’t grasp, like a dream where nothing is quite how it should be. The language escaped me. I was cut off. Alone.
For several weeks I walked everywhere. I had absolutely no idea how to use the buses, and the instructions on the ticket machines on the Metro were a confusion of multiple languages, none of them English. What did it cost? What did I press for a single? Which side of the barrier did I put my ticket? Did I go to Espanya or Catalunya to get the red line?
The first time I used the underground system I felt a sense of achievement akin to gaining my place at uni. Now I could use a ticket machine and I could negotiate myself to the right place, heading on the train in the right direction.
But I realised that I liked to wander. I liked to explore this new town of mine. Underground was the same: London, Berlin... wherever – tunnel walls were the same the world over. But the sights here were, I was discovering, unique. And each time I saw them they began to feel normal, they welcomed me back with their familiarity.
I walked from my apartment at Poble Sec (each location measured by the nearest Metro station as in every city with an underground system) to nearly Passeig de Gracia, up to Casa Batllo, that dragon-backed construction of a house that glittered when cleaned, glowed when filmed with traffic pollution. A few blocks up was the Correo, the post office, and a few down was that stationary shop with the greetings cards and ‘carpetas’, folders, with the Disney figures.
The Ramblas, on the southern end of the Passeig beyond El Corte Inglés - that magical department store that didn’t need translation - a meandering street leading from the heart of the town to the sea, the path of a once river, pausing at Liceu, the opera house set where the Ramblas begins to flatten out, the Joan Miró artwork set in the pavement. The bank that had once been an umbrella shop, the decorative umbrellas still delightfully in place, the dragon of Catalunya still adorning the wall.

I trekked up Montjuïc, from the Placa D’Espanya and the Palau Nacional and its automatic escalators that were only in motion if someone was on them, stopping as one must to examine the view from the diving pool.
From there the city was laid out, bathed in the sun. Flat-roofed tower blocks rose at a thousand different heights, the square buildings, cream and white and yellow faded by the unrelenting sun to beige, square black windows, a child’s Lego city, the cactus spikes of the old cathedral tower in the foreground, and reaching into the sky the elongated pine cones of the four towers of the Sagrada Familia further away; and beyond that, mountains, misted and hazy. It was familiar, a view I recognised, and the force of being here hit me.
Before I came here the city was a name, a joke from a 1970s sitcom. Now it was this, this vista, this panorama, this iconic cityscape. And there, down there, a few steps from that long straight road, the Paral.lel, that is where I now lived. That was my address. Carrer Parlament. I lived there now. This was my home, this city. And for the first time since I boarded my plane at Heathrow I smiled.
I followed the winding road up to the top of Montjuïc, all the way to the fortress that was carved atop, a crown set on a dark green hill. I could have waited for a bus, or hailed a cab, but I paid my pesetas and climbed aboard the cable car, drinking in the view, revelling in being suspended above such a marvellous city, watching for my apartment, my road, the market of Sant Antoni, clambering out at the end of the trip in the port district.
I walked back to my flat with a new purpose, a spring in my step, eschewing the bus or the Metro, not because of fear, but because this place was mine and I was going to enjoy it. Half an hour later, much further than I had estimated, really not caring, I came to my front door. My front door. I checked my mailbox and then got into my lift to the fourth floor. My apartment, my balcony overlooking the street below, the sirens, so different from those in London, now my sirens, part of my life. The lottery ticket vendor on the corner, the bakery that opened so early, the little souvenir shop with its sombreros and flamenco dresses for five-year-olds hanging forlornly either side of the door. The grubby supermarket down the road, the oddly flat vowels of the language shouted across the street. Poble Sec, the Metro station at the end of the road. Each formed a part of the patchwork quilt that wrapped itself around me as I watched life go on below me. Each tiny scene a splash of colour on the canvas that was the city. Each one was now a part of me, and me on my balcony, I was a part of it, in my corner of Barcelona.
My Barcelona.

© Nicky Galliers

song: Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe (who sadly passed away in October 2018 - I hope they are both singing their hearts out together with great joy on the other side!)

When not writing her own brand of fiction, for publication when she overcomes her shyness, Nicky loves to work with other authors to beta read, proof and offer a helping hand with research. 

Follow Nicky on Twitter @sicestverum.

Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics but no copyright in names, titles or ideas
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  1. I remember this - Nicky tells a simple tale so well ... apart from the descriptions, you can feel the narrator, on her balcony, breathing out a huge sigh of delight and contentment ...

    1. The nearest we'll get to travelling abroad at the moment!

  2. Thank you, Nicky, for a wonderful tour of a sunny city I visited much too long ago. Just what we all need these days. Loved the song by my favorite opera singers.


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