On Sunday, August 4, Rich and I strolled out the front door of our Seville apartment and over to the station with just a small roll-on suitcase each, a shared daypack, and our Eurail passes. We hopped a high-speed train, and five hours later we were on Spain’s east coast in the city of Barcelona. We’re going to be on the road a while, so if you lose track of where we are, just check this blog page's upper right corner or the top of my Start Here page.Our guide, Duncan
So we arrive in Barcelona, and the very next morning we find ourselves trying to help prevent a murder.
Perhaps I should back up a bit.
Checking into our little hotel in the old quarter, Rich and I noticed a sign offering a free city tour the next day. At the appointed hour (well, not more than 15 minutes late, which by Spanish standards represents an almost unseemly degree of punctuality) our guide arrived. An Irish architect thrown out of work by the economic crisis, Duncan had lived in Barcelona for years and provided our small group with a colorful account of the city’s history. Every few minutes, however, his stories were disrupted by blaring trucks, barking dogs, and once, a religious zealot who considered himself divinely appointed to explain to us just how far we had strayed from the path of righteousness. Finally Duncan led us away through some side streets to a small plaza. “We should be better here, “ he said. “It’s one of the quietest plazas in the city.”
The streets of Barcelona are full of surprises
And that’s when the screaming began.
Just around the corner out of sight, a man and a woman stood in the street yelling abuse at each other at the top of their lungs. Their fury escalated so rapidly that if handguns were legal in Spain, I just know the next sound would have been gunshots. When the woman’s shouts turned to fearful shrieks, Duncan ran around the corner. I didn’t hear his first words, but the man shouted, “I’ve been wanting to kill her for 25 years!” Thinking that maybe more witnesses might make the guy hesitate to commit mayhem – and of course curious to see what kind of street crazies we were dealing with – I went after him, and the rest of our little group followed. The perpetrators turned out to be an ordinary, well-dressed Spaniard of about 60 and his little, white-haired mother. She rejected Duncan’s repeated offers to call the police, and eventually the two went inside an apartment, where we could hear the verbal brawl continuing through the window directly over our heads. “Well, it’s usually a quiet plaza,” Duncan said. “I think we’ll find another spot to continue the tour...”
I know what you’re thinking: are the McCanns lucky or what? How often do you get this kind of drama on a city tour?
More often than you might think. In Mediterranean countries, life’s high and low points are often enacted in the public eye, especially during the dog days of August. When I’m in Barcelona, I often feel as if I’m in a Fellini movie, what with the fire juggler, the tightrope walker, the old opera singer, the wild street art, human statues, mimes, the marijuana museum, the outrageous tattoos.. Every street corner and café seems to offer up a small life drama: tattooed teens flirting shyly, harassed dads corralling toddlers, firebrands arguing politics over cheap beer, families gathering for leisurely meals at long tables, old couples sitting quietly in the twilight sipping their wine, mothers and sons threatening to kill each other...
Duncan’s route ended, inevitably, at a bar, and – brought closer by our small, shared adventure – many from our tour group sat for hours talking about the local culture, economy, art, politics… “This is why we travel,” Rich said, after we’d passed around our cards and kissed our new friends goodbye. “To learn about other cultures. And to think we got embroiled in a near-murderous domestic dispute on our very first day!” Obviously we can’t expect to be that lucky all the time. But we do feel the trip is off to a promising start.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California.
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