Wednesday, October 19, 2016


If your hand hovers over a volume on a bookstore shelf, does it matter if the city beyond the nearby display window is Barcelona?

The friend with whom I will be travelling to Barcelona in two months has three previous visits to show to my one. We will each of us have climbed once before into the architectural intricacies of Sagrada Familia, and I venture to say we will head there again. But will we follow the patterns of our developing friendship and search out establishments for the distinctly lettered, aisles down which we can each wend our way, lured by paper and binding, paragraph and chapter?

Will we get to experience even in Barcelona the silence within which we each reach out for a title along a spine?

When we exit a bookstore, we will no doubt be alert to other places where hope is occasionally born in a similar silence. We will know to recognize in the coffee shop along a carrer just the sort of setting where lives can change without warning – and not because of the coffee bean ground or the china cup served on a marble-top table. Experience tells us there are other things that people get to see in that setting on the most random day.

We will be attentive, I suspect, to other places in Barcelona where consolation can loom, places where some delight – intellectual, aesthetic, even theological – awaits the earnest and the reflective. There are so many flavors of contemplative life that coexist in a city as old as Barcelona. There are so many times in its troubled past when holiness would have been a goal sought and glimpsed and encountered amid the simple and the unassuming.

Beyond the everyday diversions of paella and sangria, we will want all the food and drink of Catalonia. We will look up again and again – from a meal, from a museum bench, from a sunset, from a bus seat – and wonder together at how life can taste when there is time to be nourished by surprise and routine.

Why travel if we do not recognize our own lives better at trip’s end?