Two years ago I arrived in Barcelona with several suitcases of clothes and my laptop. My plan was to retire and establish a new home here. I had spent the previous six months preparing for this day: selling my house in Richmond, organizing my finances, disposing of furniture, electronics, books, you name it. Essentially decades of accumulation had to be sorted and it most cases discarded. Two months later I ended up mailing fourteen boxes of household goods to España. And that was it.
Before New Year’s two years ago, I had already decided on my new home. I only had to endure a few more weeks of the home sale from hell before I had the money to purchase my piso en El Masnou. This side of the move went smoothly.
I spent much of 2005 acquiring appliances, furniture, linens and so on. I also completely repainted the place, with colors bolder than the pastels I had lived with all my life before. Another thing I did was to mount a number of pictures on the stairwell going back more than forty years. This was so I wouldn't get homesick. I don’t think it mattered much, but the pictures do serve as a conversation starter.
This year I finished furnishing and decorating. I bought an HD LCD TV, hard disk/CD/DVD recorder and tuner along with loudspeakers. My media center was complete, albeit more compact than what I had in California.
Rugs and wall hangings also made my new home feel more finished. And I can’t forget the lighting in the salón comedor. The inside of my piso is just about complete as it is going to get now.
I also filled my terraza with plants. Along with many citrus, I also have a number of herbs that I frequently use in cooking. And I am proud about how well some my plants are doing. The climate here is much like the South Bay, but with less diurnal temperature changes (read higher night-time temperatures.)
So from a physical standpoint I am making do with less. My living space here is about 40% what I used to have in Richmond. But actually I only used about 40% of my house there and now I use every room every day here in El Masnou. So it ends up being about the same. I don’t feel cramped and I still have some space to store things (and I don’t mean in the garage.)
My “carbon footprint” is smaller as well. I have been able to make do without a car. Something that would be almost impossible in California. I use public transit nearly all the time. It’s cheap and convenient.
The cost of living for me here is much cheaper as well. Since I have a smaller home, my utility bills are lower. The rates are probably higher, but I consume much less than before. Health insurance is probably one-third or less than the cost in the US. And no car expenses. The taxes I pay for living here are also much less than in California. Oh, and fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper too. It all adds up to be more financially advantages to live here.
So those are the non-social aspects of my life here in España. The social aspect, of course, was the primary reason why I wanted to relocate here. I felt that I had become “invisible” in the Bay Area. Here I go out several times a week and run into many españoles as well as a few English speakers who live here. So I nearly always have conversations with people rather than standing around feeling ignored.
Sometimes there are American tourists in town and my Spanish friends will say “this is the American that lives here that I was telling you about” as they introduce us. I met someone from Atlanta last night that way and also someone from Seattle last week.
The reaction of the visiting Americans is interesting. Some say that Barcelona is “cool” and they wouldn’t mind visiting again. Most are surprised on their first visit to España as their preconceptions are usually wrong. But they really only consider this as a tourist destination.
And then there are people who have the same reaction that I did when I first attended Bearcelona back in 2001. As the person from Seattle said last week, “I really want to live here.” There is something about how it all fits together that makes it appealing to live here. I felt the same way about the Bay Area when I moved there in the ‘60s. You just feel that you belong here.
There are, of course, problems here just like other places. And there is not as much money available to get things done as in the States. On the other hand, they seem to have a vision of the future and are moving towards it. Back in the Bay Area it seems that there is “more talk than action,” even when funding is available.
In summary, I made my move and now I feel like I am part of the community. I have met a number of people and also enjoy the companionship of a Catalán. I am planning on sticking around here.