I’m alone in the midst of groups of friends, families and couples; the world is whirring around me, while I sit, contemplating. After wandering the streets of Gracia, which is currently in the thick of the Festa Major de Gràcia celebrations, I came across a small square where a band is practising on the stage that has been set up for the festival. Around the edges of the square are a number of tiny bars that are serving up plastic glasses of sangria and beer, as well as plates of tapas. The sun has dipped behind the buildings that surround me, and the sky has taken on a romantic, gentle blue hue, like the one you’d use to paint a nursery for a baby boy. I get a whiff of fried calamari as a waiter takes a plate of it to the couple sat at the table next to mine.
I realise that for the first time in ages, I’m starting to finally feel like myself again.
I spent the previous couple of hours walking around the labyrinth of streets that make up the district; once a separate town, Gracia was swallowed up into Barcelona as the city expanded. It still retains its distinctive character, which is evident in the tiny businesses that line the streets and the laid-back pace of the locals who walk them. After spending a little too much time in the touristy parts of the city, Gracia is refreshing, like a gust of cool wind on a hot summer’s day. It’s the area I’ve been looking for; an area with a clear identity of its own, an area without branches of Mango or McDonald’s, an area with more locals than tourists.
It just so happens that I’m here during this vibrant yearly festival. Every August, around 17 streets are decorated during the proceedings, and hundreds of activities take place. There’s a competition for the best decorated street, and their residents come up with the most ingenious ways of putting together the decorations. My favourite street is decorated in a Japanese theme, complete with a giant Sumo wrestler at the entrance. No matter what the decorations, though, what all streets have in common is some form of live music, and free flowing beer and mojitos. It’s just one big party.
I wandered the alleys trying to distract myself from the fact that I’m now alone. The friend who accompanied me to Barcelona went home earlier today, so I find myself on this trip solo, something that I was both dreading and looking forward to in equal measure. As someone who was always comfortable with my own company in the past – I’d happily take myself off for a three-course dinner or to the cinema if that’s what I felt like doing – it’s difficult to accept that I find solitude slightly unsettling right now. Perhaps it’s because of the million things I’m trying to work through in my head, perhaps it’s because of the fact I spent the last three years living with my partner. Whatever it is, I don’t like it, so the minute she left me and I had checked-in to the guesthouse I’m staying in, I headed to Gracia to keep busy.
And keep busy is what I did. I grasped at my camera and clicked away at everything in sight; the decorated streets, the brightly-coloured buildings and their beautiful balconies, the street performers that were scattered around the district. I trawled a store called Zoa Regals and bought myself a Buddha, keeping up a tradition I established during my travels of buying one in every country that I visited. In the midst of this walk, there were odd moments when I felt like myself again – when I found something interesting to click, when I smelt the incense on sale in the shop, when I sat on a bench and watched people walk by.
Soon enough, though, I was longing for a cold glass of Sangria and some calamari – two staples that I have consumed nonstop since my arrival into Barcelona. That is when I came across the square and the band practising. I sheepishly looked on at the tables full of happy, animated faces, all in groups of twos and threes and fours and sometimes more, before I sat my solo self down on a chair, for the first time in my life feeling conscious about the fact I was alone. The conscious feeling didn’t last long, though. In fact, no one cared, least of all I who became utterly consumed by what was going on around me.
The band that was practising has now left the stage, and has been replaced by a new band that is performing. The show has started. As time passes, more and more people are congregating at the front of the stage. One lady who appears to be in her 50s, is dancing her heart out. She seems like a flamboyant character, as evidenced by her massive gold hoop earrings, her beach blonde hair, and the tiny, strappy black dress she’s wearing. The strap on one of her sandals appears to have broken, but that isn’t stopping her; both sandals are now off, thrown to the side of the pavement, and she’s dancing like no one is watching. I don’t know her, but I admire her spirit.
There are also odd groups of mums scattered around, their toddlers in tow. Some of the little ones are throwing their hands and legs around in response to the music, something that makes me involuntarily say ‘awww’ to no one in particular. Elsewhere in front of the stage is a group of guys and girls in their late twenties, all wearing matching t-shirts that say ‘Diables De Stiges, Colla Vella.’ They pose for a selfie while exclaiming ‘waaaaaaaay,’ while the band carries on playing some form of Catalan music. Meanwhile, a pretty little toddler with tight black curls is sitting in her bright red buggy, chomping on a piece of bread while observing her surroundings. It’s very apparent that this night is just getting started.
As I sit and enjoy the atmosphere of one of the country’s most celebrated festivals, I realise I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for not hiding away in my hotel room. I’m proud of myself for having sat down, alone, despite the reservations that I had. I’m proud of myself for having picked myself up from my recent breakup, dealing with it with dignity despite the awful way in which I was treated, and for being determined to carry on doing what I love doing. I’m proud of myself for having the strength that I have. I’m proud of myself for being excited about the future. I’m proud of myself for being here and enjoying this wonderful moment that I could have so easily missed had I not come out.
And, in the midst of the Catalan music, and the teenage couple that are kissing in full view by the side of the stage, I lose myself deep in a reverie – the type of sweet reverie you can only fully enjoy when you’re solo in a foreign land…