So far I have had one fabulous night and one horrible night with Ricardo and will not see him for four days. I am on my own in Barcelona and it seems like my real Zen journey is about to begin….
Trouble sleeping but feeling better after a few hours of shut eye, I awake with no real plan except that I need to get checked out at some point and get to Sant Pere de Ribes. I have the luxury of pulling an Elizabeth Gilbert during her Italian part of her “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure and asking myself, “What would you like to do today, Mary?” One thing I want to do is get a better geographic handle on the city. I have been to a couple of places but taking the metro is disorienting because there is no visual connection between where one starts and where one ends. It is difficult to get a real handle on a place that way. I decide to take a bus tour of the city so I can truly see it. The hotel has discounted tickets so I buy from them thinking I have all morning to tour the city (as if that would be enough time). I purchase a package from the hotel that allows me to take a bus tour around the city from Placa de Catalunya. The tour is great because one can hop off the bus at any stopping point, go see something then get on another bus and go to your next place of interest. One has access to the busses all day or for as many days as one purchases. Then Kirana calls and says that I need to get on the train to Sitges (the station closest to Sant Pere) by 12:30. I am a little disappointed but have faith that it will all work out- I just need to trust the Universe and go with it. Somehow it is already 10:00am so I eat again in the hotel and ask for directions to the train station. The young woman at the front desk directs me to take the metro to Placa de Gracia and catch the commuter train out to Sitges. I get to Placa de Gracia easy enough with my heavy roller bag but then it is a labyrinth of hot humid stinky tunnels to the commuter train. I have no idea where I am going and again do not have the words to ask anyone. I see some Brittish tourists who seem to be looking for the same thing and follow them. Somehow through luck and listening to English speaking tourists a ticket is purchased and I miss the train by seconds earning myself the priviledge of 30 more minutes in the hot tunnel that smells like a combination of urine, body odor and stale cigar smoke. The train is nice though. Airconditioned and passably clean. The thirty minute ride to Sitges goes by fast as I try to drink in every inch of scenery on the way.
I get off the train and text Kirana. “10 minutes” she texts back. Somehow I am neither nervous nor completely settled. I have never met Kirana outside of a few emails and text messages and a couple of phone conversations. I have only a vague notion of what she looks like based on a photo her mom showed me when she came to visit my office to drop off a few gifts to carry over for her. A different person might be frantic about now. But I knew she would be wonderful. I knew I would know her when she drove up. She drove right passed at first but I saw the Yogaville sticker on the back of her car and called her “movile” immediately as I watched her drive around the corner and away from where I was standing. (Yogaville is a yoga center in Charlottesville, Va.- not a likely choice for a native to have made in terms of a car sticker). She finds me on her next round passed the taxi stand adjacent to the charming train station. She tells me we must run some errands before going to her house for lunch. We are like sisters already. She asks my opinion about the small plastic watering can she is buying from what looks like a tiny Spanish version of a five-and-dime. We gently deliberate over items to purchase at the store.
We are instantly comfortable with each other. Kirana is kind, caring, gentle and generous despite her small income and the prices of things in Europe. She is also a bit scattered and goofy but these characteristics make her unique. We arrive at her little white washed stucco walled house to settle in and have some lunch before going to pick up Noah, her son from a visit with his dad at the beach.
Kirana’s house is small but bursting with Spanish charm. A heavy wooden door with center knob serves the front entrance. Spanish clay tiles make up the floors of the four nice sized rooms and galley type kitchen. French doors open up to a small patio and raised courtyard surrounded by high walls. The courtyard is filled with sun and grapevine and flowering trees. There is no air conditioning only open second floor windows. Like most European kitchens everything is small. Small stove, small fridge little storage space, small washer and dryer in the small pantry closet at the back of the kitchen – one of only two closet type areas in the house. I love it.
Kirana gives me her room and we begin to prepare a lunch of pasta and vegatables. I love to cook and a favorite game for myself is to walk into a strange kitchen and create something delicious to eat. This game allows me to be very zen – as in “in the moment” and is almost like an active meditation. I bring my knowledge of cooking which is almost intuitive after years of practice and utilize it in an unfamiliar environment which causes me to be strictly in the moment. The situation produces creative magic. I look to see what ingredients and tools are available then let my brain go. I have to concentrate very hard on the task of cooking because the stove is different, the pots, pans and utensils are different. The processes for achieving the dish may have to be adapted due to lack of a tool for example: I may have a garlic press at home that I regularly use for mashing garlic but perhaps the kitchen at which I am cooking lacks that tool. I then must figure out a different method for mashing the garlic like covering the garlic clove with the flat side of a large kitchen knife and giving it a couple of good pounds with the butt of my hand. The result is usually a fabulous dish and a great sense of accomplishment as others enjoy the impromptu meal. The cooking zen yields a pasta with fresh tomato, basil, olive oil, and manchego with a side of pan seared asparagus seasoned with lemon juice salt and pepper.
Kirana tells me that tonight is a fiesta celebrating the summer solstice, the Fiesta de San Juan. There will be parties and firecrackers all night. She invites me to attend a party on the beach at Sitges with several families whom she is connected with through her son’s best school chum. We will pack a picnic and hang out. I am glad to be participating in this event with locals to immerse myself in the language and culture. Because it is a holiday there are no Hatha yoga classes to day but the Raja Yoga class is still scheduled at 15:30pm. Right after lunch Kirana leads me to the yoga center which is only a two and a half block walk from her house up the narrow stone streets of this charming centuries old village.
The center is gorgeous and radiates a strikingly peaceful energy. There are two “studio” rooms and a beautiful courtyard with a wooden patio for yoga practice. The front room of the studio has frosted glass floor to ceiling windows to allow soft light to come into the room. The white walls are decorated with a series of large framed photographs of various yogis and swamis smiling blissfully down on the activities below. The floor is a golden wood. Two yellow rugs placed next to each other are surrounded by blue yoga mats serving as a sitting area for meditation and discussion. There is also a small table with a picture of Swami Satchidandanda, Kiran’s teacher at Yogaville. Between the larger front room and the smaller back room is an area for Kirana’s desk, two dressing rooms and a small bathroom. The back room is much like the front room with out the smiling swami pictures. It features natural light that graces the room through two sets of sliding glass doors opening to the stunning back court yard. These doors are often opened for yoga practice in the room to allow the fresh breeze and sounds of the courtyard to come into the room. The beauty and peacefulness of the studios are bested only by the courtyard. High walls make a rectangular garden with a wooden patio at the front end by the glass doors for yoga practice. Along the right wall is a large cement rectangular block that is used for a stage. The story behind it is that at one time in the history of this courtyard, some workers had some scrap stuff from a project and were too lazy to move it out so instead they just made a big concrete box around it not knowing that they were creating a stage for concerts. The Universe was setting this up. Vines of purple flowers and other green plants festoon the left wall at the base of which is a three foot high stone planting box for trees and bushes. Near the wooden patio area next to the studio, there is a tree that bears beautiful tiny golden blossoms that carpet the white graveled ground and wooden planks when the breeze blows them down from the palm like branches. In the right back corner there is a small fountain serving as home to three goldfish. There are sculptures of Hindu gods and Buddha nestled in nooks in the walls and one painted tile image of Swami Satchidandanda embedded in the wall to the left of the left side sliding doors. A heady mix of floral fragrances floats in the courtyard making it a delightful place to practice yogic breathing techniques. It is filled with natural peaceful energy though sounds from the neighbors keep it from being silent. Somehow the noises from the television sets, radios, meal preparation, arguments and children chatting that echo off the courtyard walls serves as a reminder of the world we must leave behind as we practice and meditate.
One student comes for the Raja Yoga class, Sandra. She speaks some English and is able to communicate that she has injured her foot and that the Raja Yoga class is helping her reap the benefits of yoga without practicing poses. This is a new concept for me. The Raja Yoga class is a combination of group discussion and meditation. It provides students with the opportunity to explore yoga theory and teaching. There is a little time before the class starts so Kirana gives me the book they are using opened at the today’s topic so I can better understand the topic of the discussion. Satchidandanda teaches that there are four locks to maintaining inner peace: Sukha or happy people, Duhkha or unhappy people, Punya or virtuous people, and Apunya meaning wicked people. Coming across any of those four types of people can disturb ones inner peace unless they hold the four matching keys. Friendliness is the key to maintaining peacefulness with happy people. Compassion is the key for dealing with unhappy people. Delight for virtuous people and indifference for wicked people. Satchidandanda says in his book, “There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys always with you and when you come across any one of these four locks you will have the proper key to open it.” Today’s discussion is about wicked people and difficulties one might have in becoming indifferent to them. We begin by lighting a candle or reverence in front of Satchidandanda’s photo which rests on a low table in the small studio room. A ten minute seated meditation follows. We discuss the topic then begin a walking meditation that takes us into the adjoining studio and into the golden petal covered garden and back to our original spots. When we sit down from our walk, Sandra discovers that she has picked up a rather long thorn in her foot from the turn in the garden. She removes it an a blossom that has also shared the journey with her into the studio via her foot. “I did not even notice it when it happened” she explains to Kirana in Spanish. “The bitter with the sweet,” she says holding the hurtful thorn in one had and the soft blossom in the other, “like life.”
After the class Kirana and I hop in her car to go to Sitges to pick up Noah, Kirana’s five-and-a-half year old son who is visiting his father. He is a curly golden haired little prince who rules his parents with petulance, whining and the occaisional smack and sweet smile. He is waited on hand and foot and at his age cannot yet even tie his shoes because of his parents doting. I recognize this type of parenting as my own with my first child, also a son who suffered from a divorce at an early age and feel a stab of pain in my heart as I think of his trouble fending for himself in the world at nineteen, having never learned how to do for himself. I decide that the Universe is operating perfectly and that I need to stay out of it and just breath instead of butting in with unsolicited advise.
Back at Kirana’s home, I am able to take a cat nap before helping to assemble the picnic and head back to Sitges to the beach around 8:00pm. It is cloudy and getting much cooler. I am grateful to have my sweat shirt with me. Spanish people are so much better with their children than American parents in terms of giving their children room to grow, learn and build self-confidence. As the families gather and set up their blankets for picnics the children form little mobs and start doing things together. There is no hovering. In fact the parents are barely watching while enjoying chats and glasses of wine. All the parents are responsible for all of the children in an unwritten rule. They are all watching and not watching at the same time. The children seem to instinctively understand the geographic boundaries of their freedom and there is no discussion of “stay where I can see you” or other limits. The fathers in the group naturally get involved with the setting off of firecrackers and lighting of sparklers. It is windy so one ingenius father cuts up some small pieces of rope and lights them first then uses them to light the various smoke bombes, bottle rockets and firecrackers.
I eat my sandwich of black gluten free bread tomato and cheese and listen to the symphony of soft Mediteranian waves, children’s laughing and squeeling, the explosions of fireworks mixed with Spanish. I am so honored to be present for this family event. Several of he adults in the party try to make conversation but our language barrier gets the best of us. One woman is happy to practice her English, however, and delights in a conversation about her upcoming trip to England. She and Kirana have a mutual friend, Marianne, an aspiring writer from Iowa. The Spanish woman calls Marianne on her “movile” to direct her to the party. They want us to meet.
When Marianne and her French husband and son arrive, I feel I know her instantly. A striking tall strawberry blond who somehow is at once European elegant and naturally American. We hit it off immediately as we exchange stories of our love for Europe and what we are writing. I ask her to send me information on the University of Barcelona’s Doctoral degree in English, of which she is a student. I am already trying to figure out a way to live in Spain even for a short time. We agree to get together again while I am in San Pere De Ribes and talk more about the Creative writing program that the University may wish to start and a seminar for businesses Marianne is talking about developing.
As the night passes, more teenagers come out to the beach to have their turn being boss of the celebration. When a group of teenage boys start to set off firecrackers in the portable public potties our family style party begins to break up. Kirana, Noah and I get home at about 11:00pm. I take two homeopathic sleeping pills and place earplugs in my ears as I am exhausted and the fireworks will continue all night. Although I am a painfully light sleeper, I manage to get in a few hours until I am awakened at 7:00am by one last explosion.