I happened to live close to the center of the city. Right outside Plaça Catalunya. There were all kinds of shopping options at that main hub. They were all really fancy and expensive and I rarely bought anything. There were also plenty of places to eat. Candy stores and themed restaurants and bars dedicated to ham or tapas. My favorite were the patatas bravas. A heaping pile of potato squares or wedges covered in a spicy mayo sauce. They always came out with tiny plastic forks, about the size of sample spoons at ice cream shops. You could always take your food and eat out in the streets. There would be tents, covered if it rained, and large heaters stood like guards set up in the corners of the tent.
I would always stop at this one little shop on Rambla de Catalunya. It was a franchise that sold a variety of little sandwiches. Actually, they sold 100 different variations of these little sandwiches. There’s apparently one of these 100 Montaditos in the DC area.
While in Barcelona, and you would eat outside on the street, gypsies and beggars would often pass you by. There’s a high unemployment rate in Spain. There would be a homeless person on about every block when you walked on the street. They held out a can and shook it but usually sat in silence. They might have a sign that explained their situation. But they were more in your face on the metro, or when you were eating.
They were all so tan sitting in the sun all day. They looked blistered and sick, and it felt like I was recognized each day on my way to class. It felt like I was the only one they looked at.
“Why aren’t you helping me?” I felt bad.
One girl in particular I still always think about. She was young. She didn’t even look 18. She was small and close to the ground. She had an old wireless piano that had a faded sound and she crouched on the ground, hunched over to press the buttons and sing along. Her voice was out of key and she yelled rather than searching for a tune. You’d walk by and she would sing to you. Angry and scared.
Alongside her every day was her dog. He was skinny like the girl and slept next to her. He never barked. He was only ever cuddled up against the sidewalk, trying to find some shade. They were always outside 100 Montaditos. She must still be there today.
She had a fanny pack and would walk her dog up and down Rambla de Catalunya. She looked so alone. She was too young.
Everyone that passed would try and avoid her, walking around her piano. Before I left for the US, I stopped to give her my change after getting lunch. She stopped playing her piano for a moment. The dog looked up from his sleep. She didn’t look at me. Only counted the money and ran inside the sandwich shop to see what she could buy:
On the concrete, the gypsy girl’s dog panted, cooking in the Barça street heat, asleep beside an empty bowl. Her feet calloused when she danced in the eating tents. She sang in tongues and I checked for my wallet. They muffled my order over the speakers. After checking my ticket I was handed my sandwiches inside at the counter and settled back in my seat with a beer to cool off. The gypsy now blanketed her dog. He panted dryer. Her skin glazed sweat, the sun kiln-hot. She sat up. The dog crawled toward her lap. She smoothed its hair in the wrong direction. My beer foamed out its head when she stood again for another bout of dancing and singing. She took a chair from my table and slapped its wired back to drum. Others around were talking about her. I looked at her white eyes looking back. She was as small as my children with those hands. She kept clashing the chair back and chanting until I stood up with my tray. I finished my beer. Her mouth opened as if to bite but instead her dog barked at the passing man brave enough to leave her a bag of sandwiches. She tore past tin foil. She backed against the sidewalk wall and threw her dog a slice of meat. He ate it raw and licked the ground where it had laid.