A young Catalonian couple found out they were expecting twins just a few weeks after purchasing a plot of land to build their first home.
“Catalunya” – their home state in Spain – is bordered on the north by France and boasts a huge section of Mediterranean coastline. In Catalunya, new countryside houses are illegal. And so, the pregnant couple had to turn a remote pile of rubble back into a home on a non-negotiable timeline.
With the help of a few enormous work parties, they quickly cobbled together basic living quarters and threw all remaining possessions into the basement/garage of their new place.
Fast-forward to spring 2014, when the young couple joined a work-exchange network. They hoped to find helpers to speed along the task of their hired stone mason, whose expensive work ensured compliance with historical preservation laws.
At the same time, Boyfriend and I wrapped up our R&R in the Baleric Islands, and started looking to connect with locals and get our hands dirty. After contacting the aforementioned couple online, we made our way by bus and train several hours into the countryside beyond Barcelona – Catalunya’s capital.
We all quickly realized the stone mason’s art couldn’t be hurried by additional labor. Except for lugging rocks for a few minutes of every hour, that task fell off the list. However, Boyfriend took one look at the overflowing workshop-garage-storage area and practically begged to make it usable. The couple said they wouldn’t wish that mess on anyone, but conceded after several rounds of insistence. It was like an episode of Home (Garage?) Makeover!
We had tons of fun both on and off their farm in Catalunya. Memories and observations:
- Beauty and Brutality Laws – Not only does legislation govern the appearance of structures, new laws recently outlawed bullfighting – a Spanish tradition going back centuries. (Some feel the legislation was motivated less by animal cruelty concerns and more by regional efforts to dissociate from Spain).
Zealous Patriotism – I didn’t see a single Spanish flag in Catalonia. However, the red and yellow Catalan stripes flew from balconies, cars, buildings, motorcycles, flagpoles, and the tops of every mountain I climbed. Catalonians tend to feel they are their own country, and they are trying to make it so on paper. Ceding isn’t an idea the rest of Spain is keen on, considering the vast resources that would be lost to Catalonia control.
- Sketchy Summits – the longest of our mountain climbing forays had us traversing make-shift re-bar ladders spanning long falls and scrambling up rock faces using re-bar hand holds drilled into place. We honored the terrifying-thrilling experience afterward with the foothill pub’s local brew!
Delightful or Deliverance? – our host’s neighbors lent us bikes to explore the dirt road heading up into the mountains. We meant to follow it to the top, but got an eerie feeling several kilometers in as we passed too-quiet, enormous old estates of stone. Also, climbing thousands of feet during allergy season made the foray significantly more challenging for Boyfriend.
- Trail Cryptography – in lands long-inhabited by people, centuries-old trails were once the only path from A to B. After a lesson in local symbols, we successfully made our way from our host’s farm on overgrown tracks to the little village of Riadura over the mountain and back.
- Frequent Feasts – We introduced our hosts to myriad dishes, while they taught Boyfriend to make bread. Our typical Catalonian breakfast was toast rubbed with the insides of a tomato. The region’s weekend breakfast? Chocolate pudding! Oh – and that crate of champagne we found in the garage? We cracked bottles all weekend!
Bodacious Boyfriend – my man’s limitless knowledge impressed me all week. That water line we fixed, drain we built, and line we added? Somehow he knew every piece of equipment and material we needed, the best way to design it… *swoon*
- Cheerful Mr. Chisel – I derived much joy from the enormous grin and exuberance of their stone-mason, Pere. This bronzed gentlemen struck up conversations each time I passed. He took siestas on the floor of the garden shed, which he also hot-boxed daily!
- Lacking Language – yet again my Spanish wasn’t as big a help as I’d hoped. Everyone speaks Catalan, and often very local dialects. Many I met could understand me, but conversations were broken, full of gestures, and often funny! The region was fairly isolated, and people loved outsiders! At the early-morning market with our host, I drew lots of attention.
Double Trouble! – The farm babies – a boy (Oriol) and a girl (Ona) – were six months old at the time of our visit and SO cute! Their amazing mother is laid back, patient, calm, and happy… with twins! Wow. Our chats about babies and child development led us to watch “Be’be,’” a movie that follows infants in four cultures – Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States. Later we even got to take the twins on a hike up the old, dilapidated Olot-Vic cobblestone road.
Our final stop, after Anna and Jordi’s farm, was the Catalonian capital: Barcelona. As happens with long term travel, it turned into more of a recovery stop than sightseeing fun. Next time I’m in Barcelona, I definitely plan to see the Sagrada Familia (stunning main cathedral) and the city’s notorious and fascinating Gaudi architecture.
This time, with me in a fog of illness and exhaustion, we settled for gawking at the Football Stadium’s multi-story gift shop, watching several episodes of Elementary, dining on Las Ramblas, and discussing our lifestyle expectations and the future of our relationship for several hours. How else would you preface a 5 a.m. flight to Sweden?! ♣