catalonian chaos, with a side of perfection

so when i say that i was "in the mountains of girona" i mean that i was in the district of girona, not the city. i was actually on the outskirts of a tiny village called la canya, which is much closer to the border of france. so close that i could see the snow of the pyrenees out the window of the little caravan i was sleeping in. go ahead, google map it. i'll wait here ;)

my host's home had enough room for me to stay inside too, but a couple of the rooms were being deep cleaned to get rid of a nasty case of head lice that the girls picked up. so, although the caravan was even more run down than the rickety things brad pitt's gypsy character sold in the movie snatch, i was super happy to have my own little private space to retreat to. it got pretty chilly at night and there was the occasional bug, but with the right amount of blankets and that view in the morning, it felt like waking up in heaven. and yeah, so what if the door to the caravan had to be slammed and then taped shut? at least i had a door! after not knowing where i was sleeping each night for a week in barcelona (and that one time i slept in a park), this set up felt like pure luxury. 

also, when i first arrived, there was another volunteer staying in the basement bedroom of the house. it was a young guy named emmit--emmit from austin. he was helping ernest (the father of the house) knock out the stone wall of their living room. the wall originally separated the living room from the chicken coop, but the family decided to make the chicken coop into an office (naturally). so when i arrived, emmit was knee deep in broken stones and there were chickens roaming about as they pleased.  

emmit unfortunately left two days after i got there, so i didn't get to know him very well. but i did learn that he was originally from ohio, and that he worked in the bar that the black keys first played in before they got famous! 

after emmit left, i was given the option to take the room that he'd been in. but after experiencing the noise and chaos of a household with four children under the age of 7, i opted for the quiet of my caravan.

the day i arrived, my bus got in late and i didn't get to the house until about 5pm. so i expected to meet the family, get a tour of the house, and maybe get to know each other over dinner. but i had no idea what i was getting myself into. i walked into chaos. i was immediately put to work.

as soon as i got to the house, delphine gave me a run down on what was going on in their lives, and what needed to be done. from our email correspondence, i got the impression that i'd be doing some gardening and helping them plan an upcoming party. turns out, this ambitious family had many more projects already underway. 

ernest was starting an online dj company of some sort, and was super busy getting things ready to present at the sonar music festival in barcelona that weekend. so he wouldn't be there at all. delphine worked weekends at a restaurant in the village and also for some job that required her to answer the phone multiple times a day and pretend she was in an office in northern france (she tried explaining it to me, but i have no idea). also, they were wayyy behind in planning this huge yearly party that they throw at their house celebrating the summer solstice. it's a whole weekend long party for 100+ people, which they usually start planning months in advance, but the day i got there was exactly two weeks before party time. also, they had a huge garden which they neglected. so that consequently got dominated by 4 foot weeds, which really needed to be pulled. also, delphine's parents were coming to visit THAT weekend and she wanted the house to be spotless for them. but that task was made exponentially more difficult by the minor fact that THEY HAD A HUGE HOLE IN THEIR LIVING ROOM. sand, rocks, dust, EVERYWHERE. did i mention they have four children? ages seven, five, three, annnd a nine month old!

...and chickens pecking about the house.  

in short, there was a LOT to be done. i was immediately overwhelmed, because it sounded to me like this family needed an army. but i got to work right away and cleaned for 4 hours while all of the children took turns crying for mom's affection.

my first reaction was dear god, what have i gotten myself into?!  haha! but it probably sounds much worse than it actually was. the dust eventually settled (literally) and i got into the swing of things :)

the most peaceful part of my days there were the early mornings, after the 3 oldest girls had been taken to school and before i started my work. i was able to sit and dip nutella toast in hot chai tea while looking out at that incredible view. complete peace and quiet.

and then delphine would hand me the baby and start going over what she wanted done for the day... the main thing i did was a lot of deep cleaning. delphine never got around to her "spring cleaning" (and i don't blame her!), so this was her first priority. i did about 4 1/2 hours of cleaning a day, before the girls came home from school. and after they got home and settled, i usually played with the girls and helped delphine cook dinner. delphine was an incredible cook, so i got to learn a thing or two (which is a thing or two more than i knew before!).

i've never worked with children before, and i've never thought of myself as being particularly good  with kids, but perhaps because i still sort of consider myself one

so it was really intimidating to go from not having any experience with kids, to all of a sudden needing to look after four---three of whom don't speak english (and one of whom doesn't speak at all yet).

there was a 9-month-old named Kali, a 3-year-old named Gail, a 5-year-old named India, and a 7-year-old named Laia. Gail, India, and Laia all spoke french and catalan. Laia spoke spanish and english as well. and Kali was still working on growing teeth (pretty hard work, honestly).

i bonded with Laia on day one, when she took me to the spring to fill up water jugs. we were both hesitant about communication, so we started by making music with the empty water jugs on the walk there. by the time we got to the spring, i had her laughing and she felt comfortable enough to speak english with me. that sweet girl stuck by my side from then on. 

Gail and India were really shy at first, and sort of looked at me like I was a weird teacher or a dentist or something. but they soon opened up and would randomly smile at me or grab my hand. i MELTED. 

all four girls were constantly bursting with very different, beautiful personalities. needless to say, i fell in love with all of them. 

after about a week, i decided to tell the family i was leaving for paris. it was a very spontaneous decision, and now that i look back at it, a pretty dumb one. a dumb decision that i don't regret one damn bit.

the house, the family, and the view were all aesthetically perfect. i loved interacting with the girls and watching them play together outside. i loved that there were no televisions or videos games, and that the kids had to use their imagination. i loved that every meal was shared around a big table, sometimes outside in the sun. i loved talking to ernest about his travels through india. and i loved watching delphine turn into supermom every day. 

but, the constant chaos of it all was pretty exhausting and didn't leave me much time to be creative, or to write, or to even think very much... which was somehow simultaneously stressful and therapeutic. the agreed 4-5 hours of work a day inadvertently turned into about 8, because the girls were constantly needing some sort of attention. and i couldn't not  help after i finished my work. i knew how many things needed to be done, so i felt guilty if i were ever idle.

but i can't complain. i went to the mountains seeking solitude and found so much more. i found the most charming little girls imaginable. i found a well-traveled married couple who lived very busy lives, and still managed to stay very much in love. i found a family that made me feel like a part of them. and i was completely part of them, if only for a week.

i'm so grateful for the experience. it provided the perfect contrast in between big cities. it wore me out in an entirely different way--a sort of mental exhaustion, which was sandwiched by the physical exhaustion of barcelona and the upcoming awakening i'd soon experience in paris.

alone in barcelona

i've been extra, extra spontaneous lately.

i booked a flight to paris for tomorrow morning! so i hopped on a bus out of the mountains and back into barcelona today. and i decided a day alone in barcelona means a day of unobstructed exploration. so after brunch in a gaudi-inspired cafe, i walked through gracia to park guell in search for some color.

i'm not a huge fan of gaudi's famous sagrada familia. i've seen pictures of it and i saw it from my bus coming in. there's nothing very elegant or beautiful about it--it really reminds me of beeswax. this park, on the other hand, is magnificent. there are colors and curves and patterns. it feels a lot like walking through a dream world.  

i had so much fun wandering around this huge park today. i was able to marvel at my own pace.

i sat at the high point with the crosses, ate brie cheese, and watched people take pictures in front of the view. i sat next to a busker from tennessee for a couple songs, gave him some change, and went on my way. i saw a girl taking a picture of her two friends jumping, so i offered to take a picture of all three. they then insisted on taking one of me, so. there ya go. i somehow ended up with more pictures of myself than i would've if i were with other people!

if you're ever in barcelona, this place is a must.  

countryside perfection

after dinner one day, sweet laia asked me to walk to the spring with her. the sun was just beginning to set and the light was ethereal. 

laia is the oldest of the four girls, and the only one i can actually talk to. she's only seven years old, but she speaks FOUR languages: french, spanish, catalan, and english. she's so beautiful and graceful and intelligent beyond her years. 

the lighting in these photos is so naturally flawless, that i decided not to edit them. the combination of the charming place, the perfect little girl, and the natural light makes these some of my favorite pictures that i've ever taken. such sweet memories.

workaway girona

i have been itching to do work exchange in other countries since college.

i was particularly interested in organic farming, so i signed up for wwoofing a couple years ago. but i didn't like that each country had its own difficult-to-navigate site, and that they each required a different fee in order to contact hosts. so i found a site called workaway.info, which is much better in that the work needed is diverse--there are hosts needing help with child care, language practice, computer work, help in hostels, etc.--but most hosts practice organic farming, and at least have a garden. also! there's one small sign up fee ($25) to have access to hosts from all over the world.

so when scotty contacted me to meet him in barcelona, i figured i could hang out with him and his friends for a little while, and then volunteer somewhere in spain right afterward. and after a week of incessant partying in the city, i was definitely ready to escape to the solitude of the countryside--to let my body recover for a bit and to help a family in need of some extra hands. 

i found a place needing last-minute help in the mountains of girona. the home is absolutely gorgeous! my first thought was that it's all i could ever hope for an old spanish home to be, down to every little detail--there's a clothes line, wooden doors, roses framing the windows, and chickens pecking about!

the family isn't quite as spanish as i imagined they'd be though. the father is from catalonia, but the mom is from france, so she and all four of her little girls (yes, four!) speak mostly french. here i thought i'd be able to practice my spanish, but it feels like i'm in the middle of france! but i'm not complaining, because little girls speaking french is the cutest thing in the world.

it's quite the contrast from barcelona, and so far, a total dream come true. 

In

dust in the wind

about a week ago i spent a final day with my big group of beautiful nomads before we all went our separate ways for a little while.

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sam went off to marsailles that day to see about a french girl. peter had to go back to scotland to take care of business. and i desperately wanted to work on a farm. vlad and noelle had plans to go south to valencia, while scotty and the girls made plans to road trip east to italy. even some of our spanish friends were soon vacationing off to other places. so the timing was just right to diverge for a bit.

we initially thought we'd all stick together for a while, going into this thing. we envisioned a true nomadic tribe, roughing it as a unit. but because none of us had plans when it started, we didn't really take into account that we'd be interested in doing different things. 

it's very likely that we'll all float back together in the coming weeks. i hope so, because the week we spent together in barcelona was pretty incredible. part of me wishes i could travel with that same group, always. and part of me thinks it would kill me. those kids are wild. and so damn fun. besos, my loves!

"wanna come see the gypsy king's warehouse?"

...is not a question i get asked very often.

so to this i said, "i thought you'd never ask!" 

so i'm still not totally sure who this "gypsy king" is and how my couchsurfing host knows him. maybe because his warehouse is right around the corner from her apartment. maybe they're in gypsy cahoots. either way, we went.

before we left, isabel's roommate warned us, "whatever you do, don't loan him any money." would he really ask for money?  i'm assuming the roommate learned the hard way. 

when we got there, the gypsy king greeted us with the widest grin and smiling eyes. he opened his arms and gestured for us to come in. he showed us around his space and all of the random artifacts stuffed into it, speaking spanish to vlad all the while. vlad wasn't too diligent about translating so i kind of guessed at what was going on, making up stories in my mind about where all the stuff came from.  

and the entire time we were touring, there was a guy standing at the door like some sort of look out. or, for all i know, he was waiting for friends. my imagination takes over sometimes.

after a look around, we took a seat and the gypsy king sang us a couple songs. as he was singing, i found such happiness and sincerity in face. and i decided that i like him. 

also, the entire time we were in the warehouse, i was eying this coat that reminded me of the one penny lane wore in almost famous. while we were sitting, i touched at it and the gypsy king urged me to try it on. 

next thing i know he's offering it to me for 10 euros. that's a steal! ...i wonder if it's stolen. it's so unique. but what would i do with this heavy coat while i'm traveling?  

 and then he offered it to me for 5 euros and i started digging through my bag for the money. i mean how could i say no? when someone asks me where i got that coat, i get to say, "a gypsy king in barcelona gave it to me for 5 euros!"

yes. i live for stories like this. 

loving in circles, playing in squares

arguably my favorite night in barcelona was the night we all stayed in gracia and hung out in plaza del sol. we sat in the spot where i met everyone on my first day in the city. but by then, our group had expanded. and it grew even more as the sun sank behind the buildings, casting long shadows on the square. by the time the surrounding windows started glowing, our party tornado had upgraded to hurricane status. that night, we were constantly pulling people in, and we allowed ourselves to get pulled in to other whirlwinds, too.

after about three rounds of beers, the square was suddenly filled with vibrating guitar strings and loud voices and dancing bodies. the whole place was glowing. we circulated between different groups of music and we made some of our own. guys passed instruments around and girls danced flamenco. twister appeared out of nowhere and everybody lost. we shared besos and everyone was outrageously happy.

and as you can tell by our smartly designed couchsurfing sign, none of us really had a place to stay that night. pol's roommates weren't having it, so we meant to ask around the square, but something in the voll-damm made us all forget.

in the end, a couple people were able to stay at pol's and a couple at isabel's. meanwhile, a few of us mayyy or may not have hopped the fence to a park and slept in hammocks in the trees... only to be awoken by police men on horses at 9 in the morning. 

and after the night we had, it took a moment to comprehend that there were horse faces at eye-level with us in our hammocks... on the bright side, spanish horse cops are surprisingly kind. it gave us something to laugh about for the entire walk back to gracia :) and perhaps the rest of our lives.