Last Wednesday I thought it was amusing to read a quote about the prevalence of street crime in Valencia in a packet I received from the program here. I was a little less excited to read on Friday a warning entitled “General Advice for Americans Resident Overseas” issued by the State Department of my mother country. Americans living abroad (e.g., me) should “be prepared to evacuate their country of residence in case of emergency.” Such people should alsoâ€”according to this security alert sent to all US embassiesâ€” keep their passports up-to-date, and prepare themselves with adequate medical and food supplies in the event of political unrest.
With that in mind, I’ve spent the past few days on a frantic shopping spree, buying up all the non-perishable food items I can get my hands on. [Reader, you too can help the plight of a hopeless American student living abroad by sending monetary and other donations to Jacob Rooksby, c/o Doña Emilia Rodríguez, 27 Calle Bélgica…]
OK just kidding. This situation is actually serious. There certainly is political unrest abroad, and I have begun to bear witness to it. This past weekend I travelled to Barcelona, the country’s second largest city at just over 3 million people, to stay with the family of a Spanish friend of mine. They are quite possibly the nicest people I have ever met. I hadn’t seen his parents since I stayed with them for two weeks on an exchange program back in high school, but nevertheless, they treated me like a long-lost son.
But in walking through the streets and seeing the graffiti, one is often reminded that President Bush is not exactly loved and admired by our human counterparts abroad. Even in a European country where its leader supports Bush (Spanish Prime Minister Aznar and G.W. are friends, whereas the same can’t be said for leaders of other EU countries), its people sometimes do not. Frequent were the Bush Asesino (“Bush is an assassin”) messages on metro walls and street advertisements. Headlines and articles in the country’s two major leading newspapers, El País and El Mundo, are certainly suspicious ofâ€”if not decidedly againstâ€”AznarÂ´s cooperation with Bush and the potential war against Iraq in general. Letters to the editor are hostile towards the idea of Americans spearheading a war. Conversation at the dinner table centered around what is seen as the incredulity of Bush’s (and by connection, our) ego and quest for world domination. A quote from Cheney saying “the world is in our hands” causes controversy here, while such mantra is characteristic of the way most are used to looking at things in the USâ€”from the perspective of the best and the most powerful; the people who can, and do, always get what they want.
A comic on the second page of El País last Sunday characterized this difference and the sentiment here nicely. Two peace doves are flying with a caption that says, “A Bush, le gustaría alistarnos en las fuerzas aéreas” (“Bush would like to enlist us in the air force”). The uncle of my friend wanted me to “tell Americans, peace is patriotic, too.” Popular sentiment here is clearly against invading Iraq, regardless of what the country’s leader is saying.
Not to say that these same sentiments are not being expressed in the United States. From what I’ve read and heard from people I’ve talked to, they are. It’s just a little disconcerting to be abroad when these things are happening.
To add to the mounting tension, 16 suspected al-Qaida terrorists were arrested in Barcelona on Friday, while I was there. Police who arrested them at their apartments found explosives, chemicals, timers, and other electronic equipment for making bombs and fake passports. Authorities believe they were gearing up to attack unspecified targets. I guess it must have been all the bomb making materials that led them to that conclusion.
But all these world issues didn’t stop me and two American cohorts from getting outside and exploring. We just decided to leave our American flagsâ€”which we had brought along to drape around us like capes in publicâ€”inside as opposed to wearing them out. We spent the weekend touring some of the city’s great sites, like El Museo de Picasso, Las Ramblas (long, main street bustling with pickpocketers, cafés, tourists, humans impersonating statues, and many others doing whatever they can to bum a dime), and the open-air market, to name just a few. I enjoyed the warmer weather. No jacket was necessary during the days (just thought I’d rub that in). But by far the neatest attraction was entering La Sagrada Família, the unfinished masterpiece of world-renown Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and getting to ascend its large towers that offer spectacular views of the city. Gaudí devoted himself to creating this, his signature work, as a 20th century cathedral in every way. His complex synthesis of architectural mastery, Biblical symbolism, and visual explication of the mysteries of faith has made La Sagrada Família a worldwide landmark. And it certainly was the highlight of my stay in Barcelona.
In 1882, Gaudí began building this expressionist church for the holy family of Spain. However, due to his unfortunate death in 1926 (he was hit while crossing the street right by La Sagrada), Gaudí never lived to see its completion, and neither may we. Much discussion ensued after his death as to whether the cathedral should be completed. La Sagrada Família had been GaudíÂ´s passion, as he spent the latter portion of his life working on just it exclusively. The government of Spain refused,and still refuses, to financially support the project’s completion out of respect to the plans of the deceased, and due to lack of money. But thanks to the generous donations of people like my Spanish friend’s parents, work has continued on the breathtaking cathedral. With the majority of GaudíÂ´s original plans still in tact, and with the help of computer models, current architects have been able to continue to construct La Sagrada Família in line with GaudíÂ´s original vision. And if you want to see it before it’s finished, don’t worry. You won’t have to buy your plane ticket just yet. Current estimates say that it will take at least 80 more years to finish.
Now if only that and a peaceful solution to the current politics of the war could come a bit sooner.