The city of rain

15 February 2010, from Barcelona

Midnight, and the subway stops are closed, the final riders shuffling out of the tunnels and into the wet streets. I’ve just left Jim’s place, where I’ve spent a convivial evening cooking pasta in tomato sauce for his surprisingly appreciative Italian flatmates. His flat is a few blocks from Sagrada Familia, whose stone spires now stand silent, its ever-present construction cranes shut down for the evening. Inside the cathedral, someone’s left the light on: an incandescent glow issues from a small window, and in the illumination I can see the grill of a work light and close-chinked walls beyond.

It’s raining here, and has been raining all day. As usual, the weather is unusual to Barcelonians. To me, it is a pleasant night of Oregon-like weather: cool but not bone-cold, drizzly but not pouring. The streets are quiet; only a few cars whiz by, and even fewer pedestrians. Most of the people out seem to be city maintenance workers, gently cleaning the sleeping city with brooms, as it dreams of its buzzing day. A few passers-by are fellow stragglers like me, walking quickly enough to dodge the worst of the rain, but slow enough to appreciate this rare period of tranquility.

I tramp along Passeig de Sant Joan, southeast towards the Arc de Triomf. Jim, his girlfriend Karen, and I traversed this wide avenue earlier, glancing into shop windows at displays of hardware, candy, shoes, kitchens, fruits and vegetables. A few windows still remain visible, advertising travel and finance and other soft products. Most windows are locked tight behind corrugated steel doors, rolled down for the night. It is now, as well as sometimes on a slow Sunday, that Barcelona shows its secret, invisible gallery: the steel doors are graffitied in in broad swashes of outline and fill, some in incandescent colors, others in shades of brown or gray. The iconography is sometimes abstract, sometimes illustrative, often comic, always interesting. The smaller the shop, the wilder the graphics. I can decipher none of it, and that pleases me. The obscure beasts of the images guide me home, and I finally arrive at the door of 44 Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, wet and content.