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In the Open Air

I remember lying on the top bunk of a backpackers in Barcelona. It was a September evening in 2011, 1am, and there was still a buzz of vehicle and foot traffic outside. A normal occurrence for the city. I loved Barcelona, and during this time of Covid19, it’s surreal to think that it might be a long while before any of us can venture beyond our own communities.

I remember one evening sitting in a backstreet restaurant and reading some chalk board writing: “A good traveller has no fixed plans.”

The people sitting around me seem to be sketched from that exact saying: Traveling Wilbury-types, vagabonds, explorers… this kaleidoscope of people make up an average day in Barcelona.

It was the sense of adventure, the lure of gypsy life (for anyone who gets bogged down in the quagmire of a corporate hours), the Mediterranean daylight, the sense of carefree abandon – all of it has all solidified into such a happy memory for me.

Las Ramblas, Barcelona.

Beyond that though, the eye-opener for me at that stage was of the cosmopolitan smorgasbord of Las Ramblas, the beaches and nudist sections, the strange work hours – all of which were revelatory to a young South African travelling Europe for the first time. The bustle of Las Ramblas really is something that must be experienced to be understood. An array of tapas and other markets attract the entire city during the day, as people make their way from their abodes and ramble their way down to the beaches. Just your typical, average day. People work a bit, and relax the rest. On the beaches while I was there, few were present before 11am, and then the population of tanners and nudists escalated as people descended on the sand, taking off their collared shirts and ties, and lounging about conversing in their native tongue.

Barcelona beach.
A local street act.

The evenings for me were spent walking the streets and frequenting various music festival stages set up in open concrete courts, and the odd restaurant venue which had musicians, locals and Spanish dancers clapping and foraying their flamenco dresses and flirting with men around the room.

The sights and sounds, the food, the general Mediterranean ease were all intoxicating. Again, just your average day. Rocking to the rhythm of a busy city.

While I was there, I turned 30 in the September of 2011, and it was a moment to pause and consider life. I found myself reflecting on how much I missed my wife, but also – through the sights and sounds and smells around me – how under an open sky with the right kind of music and mood, all cultures of the world can unite. We’re not so different after all.

All these years later, during Covid-19, I find myself looking around me. In our saturated media world, it’s difficult to find ordinary things like an average day in Barcelona. You’re resisting “click bait” all the time if you’re online and trying to discern some common sense out there amidst all the craziness that bombards us day in and day out. The loudest people are not the majority, yet it seems like it. These are not average days, and it seems like the world is going crazy.

And yet, as I’ve watched my children go about their life playfully, and as I consider the goodness of people around me in our little community and the grace of God that has extended to sustain us all as a species thus far, I am incredibly grateful.

I’m also philosophical about the fact that we are people are not that different after all. Most people in the world are just quietly getting on with it. They’re wearing a mask, they’re washing their hands and as hard as it is, they’re doing their best to practice social distancing. They are being kind to each other. This stuff is what makes up average day in the world, and while it’s hard to adjust and we’ve gone through a lot, we’re still alive on the planet to see what adventure will next unfold.

We all need the same thing – love, acceptance, kindness… and under heaven, the best we can do is remind each other of that when we each catch a glimpse of it, and do our best to show the same to others in the midst of this craziness.

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