The human experience is an anthology of memories. What makes this "human experience” of life so interesting is the memories of places or situations that have marked us, influenced us, changed us, enriched us. For me, that place is Barcelona. I often reminisce about the time I spent in that city and about how much I grew in that time, and how a trip to that beautiful Catalonian capital lead me to where I am today, sitting on my bed, in my dorm room, in New York City, writing an essay for one of my classes at Parsons the New School for Design.
Although I was born and raised in Dubai, UAE, I have never felt like I belong there. However, although I have only been to Barcelona three times, I do feel an incredibly strong connection to it. Out of the three times I have traveled there, the second time, during the summer of 2013, is when I believe that the city became a part of me. I remember walking around the cobbled streets of "Barri Gòtic” (the Gothic Quarter of the city) and just feeling so alive. Passing by old churches and buildings with beautiful and intricate architecture contrasted by the few modern buildings around them was just so energizing. The city was full of art in the most unexpected of places. To me, that was cathartic. Sometimes it felt like time had frozen at just the right moment and that I could, even if just for a few seconds, escape my own worries. Walking aimlessly on Carrer Petritxol towards Plaça del Pi and listening to the flamenco guitar music emanating from the 14th century church that lies in the heart of the plaza and watching the people walk through it and into it, saying hellos and goodbyes, drinking coffee and eating croissants, was entertaining enough for me to pass my day. I learned and grew more and more from all I saw and heard and smelled.
I remember walking towards a little coffee shop in El Raval one day and passing by wall after wall after wall of street art and realizing that someone had created all that with his or her hand and that that person had left a mark in the city forever. It was almost like I was seeing some immortal creature hidden in the bright murals that surrounded me — a creature that called me towards it, at first with whispers and then gradually its voice would get louder and louder until it shouted to me, asking me to join it once again, to join the world of creation.
The narrow, twisted streets were drowned in the smell of marijuana and coffee and beer and ice cream. My nose was infiltrated with a mix of so many different aromas, and that made me feel like a part of something so much bigger than myself. I was temporarily part of the legacy of that city. I was one of the many people that breathed its rich history and culture and diversity in that very instant and while I smelled all that, I heard things too. It was like sensorial overload in an oddly bewitching way. I heard flamenco guitarists and singers on the streets, and the tapping shoes of street dancers, all muffled by the passing cars and buses and loud Spanish voices while I smelled the smells and saw everything there was to see — it was all fused together like some beautiful, hazy dream.
The art of the city awakened a part of me that had been quieted for some years by the school I went to. The school focused on math and science and neglected all creative pursuits. The only art teacher the school had discouraged me and so, for a long time, I ceased to create. I was convinced that I would never be good enough, but in Barcelona, I began to create once again. I can still clearly recall the day I went to the Joan Miró museum and saw a video of him in his later years, crouched on the floor over a huge canvas just painting simple lines in different colors, but there was something about the way he painted those lines that struck me. I could see how he painted with reckless abandon, seemingly indifferent to anything that could possibly stop his therapeutic artistic process. Inspired by all the famed artists, as well as all the unknown artists, that had left a part of themselves in Barcelona, I bought a sketchbook and some pencils, and drew, and drew, and drew. This is when I realized that I wanted to turn my life into art. The city itself was what, deep down, I had always wanted my life to resemble. Going there was all that was needed to confirm this desire.
The chaotic grace of Barcelona made me see the world as a series of flickering films full of different stories that are all intertwined in some weird, mysterious way. The city was now embedded in me and will never cease to be, as it still inspires me even though I physically left it behind long ago.