How the Traveling Writer Ended up Living in Barcelona
By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft
This week I tell you the adventure story of how I ended up living in Barcelona after a year in Paris.
It started with Paris in winter. On November 1, it was as if some celestial being put a hand on a dimmer switch and steadily, then increasingly rapidly, reduced the amount of light.
Paris is a lot more north than New York City, which means summer evenings are much longer and winter days much shorter. I was accustomed to things getting lighter at about 6:30. and the sun being up, shining through my commuter train window, by 7. In Paris, things don’t start getting light until 7:30, and the sun doesn’t rise until 8. That extra hour of darkness in the mornings just about killed me.
And in Paris, once the sun is up, it’s usually blocked by huge thick clouds. Also, the light is dim because the sun is low – not even rising above the roofs of two-story buildings. I was so starved for light that I would watch for a sunbeam to strike the ground outside my studio apartment window. When it did, I learned I had to run out and bask in it immediately because it wouldn’t last long.
Sometimes I was in the library in Le Marais and had to dash out to the street, stand on the corner with my face to the weak sun. People would bump me in annoyance, but I didn’t care. I was doing a survival tactic. When the sun came out, it would only last a few minutes. Then moisture from the earth would rise, or the clouds would shift, the sun would be blocked, and a sunlit moment wouldn’t occur for another couple of days. Or weeks.
By December 1, I felt ill with lack of light. People told me to take Vitamin D-3 and to burn candles all day indoors. “That’s how the Swedes get through the winter,” said someone who had lived in Sweden for two years. Candles didn’t cut it. Vitamin D-3 didn’t either. Standing in an occasional sunbeam for five minutes didn’t do much for me. I was suffering.
I decided that I would never be able to live through a winter in London or Dublin or Stockholm or Copenhagen or Berlin. Nothing further north than Paris. Not ever.
Tres elegante! The skies were rarely clear in winter, however, making for feelings of desperation for light.
There are no right-angle intersections in Paris. Instead, delightful buildings like this one perch on odd-shaped corners.
Just outside Notre Dame, a woman dressed like a bride. She wandered off, and so did the horseback- mounted policeman and the child.
Paris winters aren’t bitter cold usually—the temperature held steady at 33 degrees the winter I was there—but the lack of light makes life difficult. What to do to feel better? Go someplace sunny in the south. This is why Northern Europeans have been going to Italy and Spain and the South of France for centuries.
I got on that bandwagon. I decided to check out Barcelona in January. A bright spot of sun to look forward to halfway through the winter would help me make it to spring.
I took the Train Grand Vitesse (“Very Fast Train,” literally) to Barcelona on my birthday. I stayed in a hostel not far from the main tourist attractions. The city was sunny! It was in the low 50s in daytime! I sat on a bench in the sun and basked.
Serendipities while in search of the American Dream
Now comes the Higher Power / serendipity part of the story. In the hostel I stayed in, I sat at the row of computers one evening to check email. A handsome young guy sat next to me to do the same, and we got to chatting. I said my one-year creative writing sabbatical in Paris was half over, and I needed to start planning my next step. I wanted to stay in Europe, but I had no idea how I could do that.
“Check out Workaway.com,” the kid said. “In exchange for room and board, you give a certain number of hours per day to a farmer or a family. Check out the jobs. They’re all over the world.”
He was right. There were hundreds of jobs. I could work on an organic olive tree farm on Crete, or a kangaroo ranch in Australia, or be a nanny to kids in Spain--in Barcelona to be exact.
One ad said that the three boys in the family were in school nine hours a day, and I would have weekends free. That meant I could keep my writing life going! I could write while the kids were in school.
I looked for a similar job in Paris, but the winter there had been so difficult for me, I didn’t look all that hard. I wanted an adventure in a sunnier location. I checked for a Meet-up in Barcelona of a writers group in English, and there was one! I had what I needed!
I got in touch with the Barcelona family immediately, and after a few months the whole thing was in place – the nanny job, the Spanish visa, the Very Fast Train reservation to Barcelona in July. Here's a few scenes from Barcelona:
A mysterious Catalan courtyard
Exquisite wrought iron and architectural details.
A narrow doorway onto a narrow walkway. Perhaps a Catalan princess mourned her true love here?
Don't you wish you lived here?
Next week: the challenge of being a nanny to three Catalan boys.