Falling in love with a new city during lockdown

ovember, 2019. It was drizzling — the good kind of raining. It was there, but it wasn’t annoying me that my first day in Barcelona isn’t sunny. On the contrary, it felt like the city was offering me a clean slate.

Too bad that slate did not come scribbled with instructions on how-to-do-2020, but then it wouldn’t be 2020 if it came with a manual. 🤷🏻‍♀️

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My spot in Barcelona. It grounded me to this city. Photo by Jo Kassis from Pexels

I used Duolingo as a manual for Spanish, but one of the first words I learned coming here was “vale”, or more like “vale vale”. Everyone uses it here — and it just means yeah okay. The v is pronounced as a b, so it sounded quite similar to the Indian-Punjabi Balle-Balle. You do Balle-Balle when you dance, so the first couple of weeks were just me dancing around to vale vale.

How’s the new flatmate? How are things at work? Do you like the city?
“Si vale vale”, I chirped for almost all of it.
“But hey — why is it so cold?!”
“Oh wait till March, city gets another life”, they told me.

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ecember 2019. Okay then, so I added Feliz Navidad to all my Instagram Christmas stories — and I waited for March.

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arly February, I could start spotting some giris — a word locals taught me that they use for tourists.

I was issued warnings by my colleagues to hold my purse tighter, and had to take a very solemn oath to not eat paella or drink sangria on the Rambla. It was a giri-trap!!!

So entire February, I was using the metro which had now very much turned into a giri-fashion-runway. I helped click pictures on my way to work, and was already feeling a bit competitive with the giris about touristing around the city.

Meanwhile, I also had just started taking Spanish classes, so I could pick catch words out of a conversation. Tienes is you have. Quiero is I. Bolsita is bag. Tarjeta is card.

“Tienes {insert X}?”
Si
“Quiero {X}?
Vale, something something something bolsita?
“Si, por favor”
Vale, something something something tarjeta?
“Si Si tarjeta”
Shopkeeper super confused because he prolly asked me what else do I want or suggested another item or told me that this is the baking soda, not salt.
“Gracias. Adios.”

Armed with my I-can-buy-groceries-in-Spanish confidence, I started going to meetups for hikes. Quite fun to explain why a solo Indian girl who can’t speak Spanish is hiking with them around almost-unknown mountains in Barcelona. But well, my Spanish, and my friend circle drastically improved. I now knew a couple of 60-something folks, who spoke only Spanish/Catalan, mostly lived their entire lives in Spain, and weren’t that supportive of giris and foreigners.

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Some really nice hikes, and weekly trips to Decathlon to get hiking stuff.

arch was here, and rumors had started. We knew that our neighbours in Italy were doing really bad, and it is only time that it reached us. But obviously like the rest of the world, nobody — especially me, foresee how big the wave would be.

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Last meetups, and festivals — not knowing this is the last stand of normal as we knew it.

I would leave the numbers, and lockdown rules for history books. I could just tell you about tiny minute ways, very unexpectedly, life creeped in on us from behind the lockdown-ed doors. Sometimes bringing hope, most of the times anxiety.

Marchil, Apray, Mune — like I just combines the month names, the events too are very much rolled into my head like the dough of a sourdough bread.

They smell like my hand sanitiser, filled with Slack notifications, and nervous whispers of video calls with friends across the city, and family across oceans.

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Staying in, making puzzles, and eating cheap supermarket sushi — lockdown survival 101.

So, I almost missed the mild strum of clapping over my pressure cooker’s whistle. I went to check the balcony, all my neighbours were out and clapping. It was 8 PM. They were all clapping for our health workers and people at the front line.

….and then it became a ritual. Over the next few days, the neighbours next building and across the street became familiar. We found out the girl next door shared birth date with my flatmate. There was an old lady who always came out with her cup of tea, or maybe wine. A dog with a wagging tail in the balcony next to her. Below them, a gay couple. Wednesday was their mask day. A kid in the house across who kept tried to match the rhythm of the clapping with his tambourine.

he days we had the highest number of deaths, the clapping was so sombre. You could feel the sadness, and uncertainty looming. And then there were days we would do good, and someone would blast out a very upbeat song, and you could almost hear the relief across the city. Every night we clapped not just for those risking their lives, but also for us. We made it another day.

And it was around this time, I started calling this city mine. I found myself whispering under my breath, come on Barcelona — you can do this. We got this.

The connections you form while enduring something intense together, also become intense. And it got more intense the coming weeks.

When the new reality settled in — that it might quite some time that I can travel back home, or hug my loved ones, that’s when I needed to hold on to this city tighter.

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Around that time, spotted in a store.

The amazing thing about Barcelona is you can walk everywhere. Like you can walk through the arch of victory present in every European city, you can do that pretty church, the long main road filled with shops, and then the beach, and then you can do groceries on way back home. To my friends in Bangalore, or in London this might not seem so feasible. But this is the beauty of this city.

So I walked. I walked everywhere — one because I wanted to avoid public transport, and two because there wasn’t much else you can do anyways! So no I will not be able to give you the best boutiques to shop from, or the best bars to drink gin. But I can very well tell you where to get the best deals on daily buys, or whose chocolate croissant is the best. If my shopping is divided between 4 different supermarkets— I blame the lockdown, and me walking around aimlessly most days!

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Mi barrio — the neighborhood, is another of my favorite word. Mi barrio is the best, because now I have locals running shop who know me, and can talk to me in my level of Spanglish.

October, the previously new normal, had become a normal normal. Along with keys and phone, I know had masks and sanitizer in tow. I visited all the tourist locations when they were empty — I had it all to myself. I had the privilege to visit Gaudi’s masterpieces without being shoved, and I could walk around Barcoleneta beach without being forced to buy mojitos. I walked along the middle of the La Rambla without clutching my purse for my life.

So yes, years later if I mention I spent some time in Barcelona, and you excitedly ask me for bar recommendations or tourist places I would most probably draw a blank.

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But I could tell you where to go for the best chocolate croissant, or which supermarket has the nicest, cheapest sushi, or the walking route that takes you around the city, or how to have a conversation in bare minimum Spanish.

I could also tell you that Barcelona is a city I call mine. It is so deeply entwined in who I’ve become lately. It was here that I became self-reliant. All those days tied up in my room away from my loved ones, I had to find that strength in myself again. I laughed, and cried while walking these streets. I sighed when I saw a family restaurant close down. I jumped when I saw street musicians singing on the street again. And more than that — I always kept whispering to it, come on Barcelona, you can do this. We can do this. ❤

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Written by

Big fan of not-writing-regularly, sushi, working at Bumble, and the rare sun that shows up in London!

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