Barcelona: The City of Yiddish Proverbs

My grandmother, replete with Yiddish proverbs, had left a message on my phone. The content, “Man plans, and God laughs.” As a woman of a few words, she keeps her calls simple and to the point. My flight to Barcelona had been cancelled on account of the most unexpected of reasons: an Icelandic volcano. A volcano that had been dormant since 1823 had decided that on one sunny Thursday in April it would reawaken. Only it forgot one small detail– last time it erupted there were no planes; no airspace for it to interfere with. The victims of the 1823 eruption: farmers, who knowingly had chosen to live at the bottom of an active volcano.

The victims of 2010: Two young and impressionable American travelers, desiring to leave their flats– be they ever so temporary– in London and Paris for a weekend of adventures in the City of Counts. Having engaged in the cayenne pepper diet just days before, these two women, one of whom was yours truly, were prepared for a weekend of artery-clogging tapas and diabetes-inducing sangria. Did I mention the Museu de la Xocolata, where the tickets take the form of rich, dark chocolate bars?

The joke, of course, was on us. Having weathered blizzards, hurricane-winds, and all around airport incompetency, we thought we had dealt with all possible obstacles involved in transnational travel. But as my grandmother stated so succinctly, God had other plans. For five excruciating long days, we argued with airline executives, meteorologists, and even God Himself. In my morning prayers, I distinctly remember saying, “Yo, Mister, I thought we had a deal. I go to Barcelona, and You keep the dormant volcanoes dormant.”

Determined, distraught, and apparently quite bold, I managed to finagle two free flights in May, when, Iceland-permitting, my friend and I would embark on our Barcelona adventure. Fortunately, our plan succeeded and I indeed found myself in a museum of chocolate sculptures, wishing New York had an equivalent version. The exhibits featured a diverse array of animals, historical figures, and even French comic strips, carefully crafted from local chocolate varieties. Needless to say, I got a bit hungry, almost scaling the white chocolate gorilla display…

However, given the precarious nature of breaking into a sealed and alarmed exhibit, my traveling cohort and I opted for a legal indulgence: chocolate caliente pequeña– the museum’s infamous mini-hot chocolate, on par, if not better than that offered by The Chocolate Soup in Edinburgh, Scotland. Until my encounter with chocolate caliente pequeña I had claimed vanilla to be superior to that of chocolate. And though it is still difficult for me to admit, I was wrong. I now understand why Valentine’s Day has become a holiday centered on the almighty cocoa bean.

Barcelona, however, was not just a city devoted to celebrating ancient Mayan and Aztec concoctions. It is an urban testament to the beauty of modern architecture, thanks to the man of my dreams: Gaudi. As a visionary, be he ever so eccentric, he designed some of the most breathtakingly beautiful buildings in all of Spain. And he was not above money, which makes him a more realistic and accessible character– instead of the mythical artist of  legendary moral proportions sometimes suggested.

After visits to Casa Battlo, La Padrera, Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell, I was convinced I had met my future husband. Though I had never taken an art history or architecture class, I  began to appreciate the subject matter.  The undulating waves of La Padrera, an office building conveniently located across from my favorite caffeine establishment, made me consider taking a few more Spanish courses. As I discovered, after nearly four years away from the romance language, the only words I remembers were either expletives or related to the bathroom. I imagine if I made Barcelona my home I could start a business centered around bathroom humor paraphernalia, at least until I mastered fluency.

Once again, the Guy Upstairs, perhaps because He knows all human thoughts, decided to give me an opportunity to gain said fluency. Yes, my favorite volcano re-erupted and my return flight to London was conveniently cancelled. Grounded and in desperate need of a jug of sangria, I did what every good tourist does– I wandered Las Ramblas, the busiest street in Barcelona, in search of caloric indulgences of any and every variety.

A few pounds heavier, and with a slightly larger food vocabulary, I boarded my British Airways flight two days later. My grandmother left another proverbial message when I landed, “God made man because He loves stories. And after your experience, the stories you will have to tell.”

Yaffa is a self-described caffeine addict. In fact, she almost never went abroad for fear of encountering a Starbucks-deprived country. After discovering the joys of European cafes, however, she quickly succumbed to her senses and embarked on a ten-month adventure through Western Europe, using Oxford, England as her base. Now a Wellesley College graduate, she is spending her every waking hour working on travel grants to take her to any country except the 19 she has already visited. And yes, Yaffa is relying on caffeine as a source of fellowship application fuel. You can follow her through the mind-numbing travel grant process at:

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    1 Comment

    1. I love the quote from your grandmother – very clever. I miss Barcelona and Gaudi, never knew about the chocolate museum, another reason to go back!

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