Global Friendship

We don’t have one language in common, instead we speak three languages in between the three of us, Japanese, English and Spanish, as we take shelter in a local Spanish restaurant in Gracia. I had wanted to show my international friends the area in Barcelona where I used to live, before moving to Calafell. My plan for this evening included our normally pleasant weather – not a steady downpour. But the food is excellent and the company better still, despite some occasional confusion when we speak the wrong language to the wrong recipient. The bartender is amused by our group and absolutely thrilled when he learns that Selma is originally from Argentina and they even have a common home town. He brings us strawberry gazpacho to celebrate this. Selma orders Argentinian meat, Sono is excited by the idea of Spanish tapas and we share three little plates followed by three rather large cakes for desert. It’s been a busy week for them, when you come from Japan to spend a week in Catalunya then you must make the most of it. They have been riding in the Pyrenees together with Sue from WIMA GB and, in addition, managed to see some of what Barcelona has to offer in the culture department: Gaudi’s architecture and Picasso’s art. To complete the list, we managed some shopping for Spanish goods before dinner.

Dinner in three languages. photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dinner in three languages. Photo Courtesy Selma Roza Peres

On my behalf, it’s been a couple of eventful weeks, moving houses, starting a new teaching position and in the midst of it all my WIMA friends from England and Japan basically arrived on my doorstep. Sue had rented a house up in the Pyrenees and I joined her for some amazing riding. We were lucky to be recommended a brilliant route by fellow bikers. It was 200 kilometres filled with twists and turns, it kept us busy until evening in fact, with various coffee and photo stops along the route. We started off in Col de Nargo and headed to Berga along route L-401, in the morning the road was quiet, but we soon met lots and lots of bikers, it was evident that the road was popular and we could see groups of bikers on different viewpoints along the route, as well as bikes passing us when we stopped for photos. Our return route took us up north approx. 20k and then back through the villages Saldes, Gosol, Tuixent and Sorribes. This road was not accepted by my GPS, possibly because some of the roads were tiny – my TomTom app does that sometimes, it overrules my choice of road. A small part of the route was on gravel, which reminded me that my bike isn’t suitable for gravel and I had better stay off it. Well, there are smooth gravel roads like the one to my parents’ house in Sweden (which is a piece of cake to ride), and this looked like that to begin with, but soon got loose and my road tyres were sliding. Arriving on tarmac made me both praise civilisation and wish I had a smaller, lighter bike with offroad tyres so I could do it all again. I can definitely see myself on a smaller bike in the future.

Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes
Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes

After the weekend, while I had to return to work, Sue was expecting our Japanese friends for a few days riding. However, our planned ride out to meet them as part of my return had to be drastically changed due to some very expected events. While lifting my very sleepy head to check the time early Monday morning (public holiday here so I wasn’t going to go to work anyway) I found out that it was 4:30am. I also found out that Sono had ended up on Mallorca instead of Barcelona and that Selma, who had arrived in Barcelona on a different flight, had been pickpocketed and lost all her money. They were on a tight schedule, since Japanese people hardly ever get more than a week off work consecutively, and their hire bikes were waiting for them. The decision was easy, I would await sunrise and head down from the mountains and try to help. I’m spoiled, being used to a completely different work culture. I would personally never even consider flying to another continent during a week’s holiday, but they must make do. I absolutely admire their ability to make the most of it and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for them.
So, I met with Selma and we tried to locate the rental place. Firstly, I feared that the place didn’t exist and that their booking offer was fraudulent. Luckily, it turned out that the company had not announced that they had moved place and changed phone number and we did track them down in the end. When we finally arrived, and explained Sono’s predicament, the owner kindly offered to keep the place open until 4pm. I had already offered Sono to take my bike up to the Pyrenees if she wouldn’t make it, but since her booking couldn’t be cancelled we were still hoping she would be able to make it – and she did – literally in the last minute her taxi arrived. I was very happy to contribute to making their arrival in Barcelona a little less stressful and be able to escort them out of Barcelona and on their way up to the Pyrenees, no doubt they were tired after their long flight to Europe and their respective mishaps, and I wanted them to have a smooth start to their riding at least.

While they enjoyed the mountains, I returned to work. We had scheduled to meet up again on Friday, Sono’s last day in Europe and in the restaurant in Gracia we closed the circle. Selma’s flight was a couple of days later so we made plans for the weekend – we learned that we both have a passion for books so we spent Saturday morning in bookshops. I was amazed to learn that she was named after a Swedish author, Selma Lagerlöf and I secretly sought out a Spanish edition of one of her books as a present. Selma, the author, is native to my region in Sweden and her house Mårbacka is now an impressive museum and celebration of the author’s life. She was also the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not a bad character to be named after, I must say!

Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez

Since Selma had dreamed about having dinner next to the sea, we had to make this happen for Saturday night, and then we did the same for Sunday lunch but here in Calafell. I was happy to welcome her as my fist visitor to my village and we were both quite surprised as we stumbled upon a local charity ride in support of children with Dravet Syndrome here in Calafell harbour, “Rolling for Kids”, it was called. We had an interesting chat with the organisers and showed our support before continuing our Sunday stroll along the beach, our feet in the water and the sun in our faces. We shared a typical Spanish three course Sunday lunch before Selma had to return to Barcelona.
Supporting local charity ride "Rodando por los niños"" in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa
Supporting local charity ride “Rodando por los niños”” in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa

Later the same day, while reflecting on the recent events during my evening tea on my balcony, I felt a sincere happiness to be part of WIMA. There are a lot of barriers and discord in the world, that is for sure, but I’ve had the time of my life together with people I wouldn’t have met without WIMA – considering the four of us come from four different countries and three different continents – to me this is amazing networking and great WIMA spirit.

L’Amistat – not really

I felt a great sense of achievement being able to screw my Spanish registration back on to my bike, something that not only means that I can ride legally here, since I pay road tax and insurance in Spain, but also makes my bike blend better with local bikes and therefore is less of a target for thieves. (I had three break-ins in my top case within two weeks when I first came in January – then I started bringing it in with me.)

Now I’m pondering another conundrum, that of racism and the fact that we live in a region of Spain with very strong nationalism. We also happen to live in Gracia, a part of Barcelona which used to be its own town, before Barcelona grew and swallowed it up. It’s now a district within the city. The locals here don’t like foreigners, they think we destroy their Gracia and the signs of this are evident on banners, stickers, signs and loud protests. When we first came to Gracia we knew nothing about this, we simply fell in love with the quirky streets, cosy bars and lovely squares. Then it started to dawn on us, along with the multitude of local festivities celebrated within districts we also noticed the signs saying that foreigners we’re not welcome, and the stickers stating “Tourists go home”.

Tourists go home, you're destroying our neigbourhood.
Tourists go home, you’re destroying our neigbourhood.


Because summer is so hot and I want my bike to be parked in the shade as much as possible, I’ve parked it outside the building where we live. It is a narrow street and there the bike only gets a couple of hours scorching sun per day. This is how locals park as well, in Barcelona there are plenty of designated motorbike parking but still there are more bikes than parking spaces so people park their scooters and motorbikes on the side of the streets as well and it’s legal to do so. Next to where my bike is parked is a bar, it is called L’Amistat – which means friendship in Catalan – I find this ironic considering how I was met when approaching them.

It was San Juan, one of many celebrations that involve firecrackers and rowdy partying on the streets. The owners of L’Amistat were preparing a communal dinner, setting up a table on the street outside the bar, and I kindly approached them intending to ask if my bike was in their way and if so I would move it for them. Before even opening my mouth, I was told that the bar was closed, this was followed by the clear message that they didn’t want me or my bike in their neighbourhood and in fact if I left it where it was parked it would be burnt by their fire crackers and they wouldn’t care.

My bike - I hope the spanish registration plate protects it from racism
My bike parked to the left – I hope its spanish registration plate protects it from racism

This was shocking, I’ve never personally been exposed to racism and their hostility made me rather upset. This is the street where I live, I pay tax and I contribute to the society just as much as everyone else. I moved my bike for safety – we’ve seen a car burn during another festivity so wasn’t willing to risk it and judging from the loud bangs during the night and the debris on the street the following morning it was fortunate that I had.

You can see these stickers everywhere in the neighbourhood
You can see these stickers everywhere in the neighbourhood
Both in English and Catalan
Both in English and Catalan
And with tourists the locals mean everyone who isn't originally form here and it is a common belief that we foreginers corupt the market because we can pay higher rent.
And with tourists the locals mean everyone who isn’t originally from the area and it is a common belief that foreginers corupt the market because we can pay higher rent.

Please note that I’m not writing this for people to take pity on me, this is merely a reflection on everyday racism and people who think they have a greater right than others to be somewhere. This was one racist incident and I can only imagine what it does do to people who gets exposed to it every day.

At MotoGP de Catalunya – our local race

Exhausted and burned, I’m now trying to get a bit of rest before a very busy work week. Tomorrow I’ll begin my third job, something which will minimize the economical damage of taking two weeks off before the national holiday period to go to the Estonian rally.

A small part of the motorbike parking, two wheels is the popular way to get around in Barcelona
A small part of the motorbike parking, two wheels is the popular way to get around in Barcelona

But that is tomorrow, today was awesome: Christopher and I spent the day at the Montmelo race track, not for running this time, but for what is now our local MotoGP race. It was hot, sweaty and filled with exciting action. We’ve been to this race before, but this was the first time we could arrive on the bike, buy our ticket at the door and bring our picnic on to the grass – just like the locals do.

Surveying the race
Surveying the race

Now, apart from some Japanese chill cream on my sunburnt shoulders, I just need a dinner and a good night’s sleep to get ready for the juggle of three different teaching schedules.