For many of us, Barcelona is love. It’s a city that gets into your soul in a way that few cities can. It’s that peculiar blue sky, it’s sitting at a shady cafe over a four-hour lunch, talking with someone you just met in real life four hours before. It’s quiet markets and nocturnal walks, when all but the most committed drunken tourists have turned in for the night.
It is a city of unspeakable beauty, a city I have visited so many times that when someone asks how many, the head tilts and the eyes roll up like, “Hmmm … let me think.”
When something terrible happens to someone that you love, your heart is rocked. You struggle to keep the tears from coming, yet they do. And do again. You feel helpless, you feel a bit angry at your own impotence, as if love could somehow prevent something bad from happening, as if Fate spreads a shield over the innocent, even as the world has proved to you countless times that it isn’t so.
Several people are dead and scores injured after a terrorist attack in Barcelona today. The assailants rammed a van into a crowd of people on the popular tourist spot La Rambla, near Plaça Catalunya. As usual with these things, it began with one Tweet on social media, one Tweet that made you hope, given how Barcelona commercial drivers fling their vehicles about, that it was some knucklehead. Even as you knew better, and you began to wonder. Then grim reality set in as the notifications and alerts, all to familiar at this point, served as real-life testimony to a horrible act.
When we lose people who are dear to us, we often have events where we focus on the joy, the things that made us happy. A person I follow on Twitter took to posting fantastic shots of the city from various spots — that typically blue sky, the buildings seemingly jammed together at crazy angles and concentrations, the energy that you can feel through the pictures and that gets into your heart if it’s open.
The first time I was in Barcelona it was to attend a match. I blew in for a weekend, then blew out. No time for the city. The next visit I made time. And the next I made even more time. I have stayed in apartments on Passeig de Gracia, gotten hopelessly lost, so lost that we said screw it and stopped for gelato and orientation. I have lost my car in Barcelona, so excited about a match that I parked and in a rush, promptly forgot where I parked, being forced to walk around for about two hours in one of Those Barcelona rain storms. The trams made a wake as they sloshed past.
I have discovered great tapas places, had wonderful conversations, discovered the delights of missing the last Metro but not caring because such a great time was had. I was taken on a tour of the city by a lifelong resident and his family, got caganers at the Fira de Santa Llucia. Our gracious host, which whom we spent an entire day, capped it off by having us drink from the Font de Canaletes, telling us of the legend that if you drink, you will return.
He was right. That fountain isn’t far from the site of the assault, not far from anything, including millions of broken hearts.
You can’t destroy love. You can’t destroy a city, especially a city like Barcelona, a city that thrums with life in a way that few cities can, in a way that is impossible to explain unless you have been there and succumbed to its charms. Familiar names of people you know from Barcelona pop up on Twitter, and with each one you breathe a sigh of relief even as your soul aches for what has happened, for the reality that people who started the day planning ordinary things, maybe a special event, planning anything other than dying, had their plans and their lives sundered by an act intended to send a message.
And then the world responds, thousands of individual people respond and the message sent in return is clear: You can’t kill love. You can’t damage it, or sully it with vileness. Love is eternal. In a world that daily makes us want to hug someone and cry, we will do that this time as well, then go on loving, and helping. Not only because this is the simplest response, but that all we can do.