I don’t know how I really feel after the events of the last week. After taking my brother and sister to the airport early this morning, before the hustle and bustle of a regular day in Placa Reial or on las Ramblas began, I took a walk down one of the most famous streets in the world, to take a moment alone to look at the tributes.
It was the first time I cried. Amongst the thousands of messages of hope, peace and love, was a note for a young man called Luca, written by a friend one presumes, that read, “sorry I couldn’t keep you alive, I did everythink I could“, it broke my heart and I sobbed.
We overslept from a siesta that afternoon, by five minutes. Had we left the house to catch the metro at Liceu at the time we’d planned, we would have been on Las Ramblas when the shocking events were unfolding. As it happened, (luck, fate, chance), our way was blocked at the junction with Calle Ferran, we took the parallel side street, de n’Aroles to exit left higher up at Placa de la Boqueria, when we realized that something very serious was happening. Police/Mossos/Rifles/chaos and confusion. We made our way as quickly and as calmly as possible in the opposite direction into Placeta del Pi, where all shops and restaurants were pulling down shutters and a member of staff from the church was shouting to take cover. We needed no more convincing than a large group of young people running from the direction of Las Ramblas, to do as he said.
And there we stayed for more than four hours, locked safely inside the church with armed police and vehicles blocking the three street entrances into the small square. Between fifty and sixty of us, a mixture of locals, tourists and church staff with a regular update fed from police to staff and relayed in four languages from the pulpit to the people inside the church – who were slowly realising the severity of what was unfolding outside. We were eerily calm. An older gentleman overcome by the heat and the stress, was cared for in the garden at the back of the basilica by staff and his companion, an American gentleman went to collect bottled water from a shop within the protected square, for everyone, half of a group of girls who had been separated in the confusion, arrived and were allowed entry into the church to be reunited – and broke down in each other’s arms. We chatted together and mostly we were all glued to our phones for news updates and letting loved ones know we were safe.
We arrived home way past nine, having finally been given the all clear to return as quickly as possible to homes or hotels by the police.
We attended the gathering in Placa Catalunya the next day, to pay our respects…….. and then in their remaining days in Barcelona, I took my siblings to see Roman ruins, have paella at the beach, visit Feste Major de Gracia and Sagrada Famila – because it felt like the right thing to do. But also, it felt strange. Especially in Gracia, which as a rule is packed so tightly with visitors, that it can take thirty minutes to walk down a decorated street, only fifty metres long. We wandered around freely, through the ghost town with a smattering of others.
Those were the things we had planned and those were the things we were going to do. Despite a slight feeling of unease at the sound of the police helicopter overhead and sirens, every day after the tragedy until they left, and on my part, a nagging sense of guilt – we went about our days as normally as possible. As it appears, did most everyone else in those places (except Gracia), that we visited. In their tens of thousands, it seemed.
I don’t know, but by carrying on with life, every one of those people on the streets of Barcelona after the seventeenth of August 2017, every one of those people who helped the injured, all of the emergency services and ordinary folk, were showing those who would do us harm – that we will not be cowed by fear, that we will not be beaten by violence and hatred. That we will never forget but we will ultimately overcome.
I love you Barcelona, for your free spirit, your love and your diversity – and incredible strength.
T’estimo molt, no tenim por.