Running With the Bulls

“Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.”

-Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Picture running next to, or running from a bull that weights over a thousand pounds, the unnerving thought, the rush of something bigger, not only physically, but also mentally superior determined to take anyone down. I often wondered why people wanted to feel the rush of running with the bulls in Pamplona. When I think about it, the running of the bulls is the perfect metaphor for life. Life works in a similar way sometimes, taking risks, galloping, and trying for the bulls not to catch up with us.

I knew Barcelona wouldn’t have bulls running loose, but an incident during my visit made me think of such. I spent my last few hours in Barcelona at the Gothic Quarter, walking through the narrow streets. I even stopped to listen to a clarinet player who caught my attention, his playing was soulful, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so, Euros cascaded into his instrument case to the rhythm of the music. I listened to him play and opened up my map. I was on a mission to visit another museum before departing.

The choices were the Museu de la Xocolata or the Barcelona History Museum. I picked the closest. I had changed directions towards the Barcelona History Museum, when I heard loud steps resonating from the proximity and screams from tourists and locals. When the crowds caught up to me, and continued running, I entered a café to avoid getting trampled.

Were the bulls loose? It was my first thought. Where they going to chase us down? I didn’t know what else to think. Inside the café everyone else was wide-eyed and scared. An older man sitting at the café, who had a pony-tail, thick glasses, and a leather jacket even though it was hot, was curious enough to go out to the street and ask.

“Someone is shooting,” he said. He picked up his laptop when he came back inside and left the café.

That was my cue as well. When I walked out of the café, people continued moving at an alarming speed. On the cobblestones, a piece of the clarinet rolled on the ground, kicked by those who fled the scene. I walked at the same speed blending with the crowd, and got away as I heard the police sirens approaching. I flew halfway across the world, to witness a shooting happening.

*****

Barcelona was a unique experience, a sexy city, filled with beautiful people, culture, soccer and art. Prior to the trip, I told my friends I had to accomplish two things, get a picture with a group of handsome men, and get kissed by one of them. I watched, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” on the plane, so that had a lot to do with my crazy idea, particularly, “only unfulfilled love can be romantic,” I was not looking to fall in love, but just the thrill of the unfulfilled love. All love is romantic when it’s brief; no feelings get hurt because it never reached full circle. Think about Romeo & Juliet, they died tragically because they refused to be apart. Had they not committed mutual suicide, Romeo, would have met someone else at the next party. And we would be trash-talking Romeo in English class instead.

*****

On my first full day there, I set out for the long walk to the beach from my hotel. The walk took about forty-five minutes but I wanted to enjoy the sights. I walked down La Rambla, and then to the harbor to get to the beach.

Barcelona’s beaches weren’t like any beach I had been to. The atmosphere distilled confidence and bliss. People stopped to dance at the sound of the street band, and life was one large beach party. Picture a color party, with live music, mojitos and sangria passed around. And everyone running to the water to wash off the paint that wouldn’t come off, and no one cared they looked like a walking rainbow. Everyone was confident, and confidence made them beautiful and they had no problem ditching their clothes and sunbathing nude.

I was alone at the beach surrounded by nudity and yet nothing was sexual about it, it’s just not the Barcelona attitude.  And I wondered, why as Americans we are so offended by nudity? Anyone sunbathing at the beach nude would probably be arrested, mothers would cover the eyes of their young children, and no one would want their significant other to see the opposite sex in their birthday suit.

I pulled the towel out of my bag and placed it over the warm afternoon sand. The hot air blew the towel on my face a few times.  I sat on my towel wearing blue shorts, and a striped tank top. I was desperate to get my Barcelona tan, but I didn’t move, and became aware that people were topless and nude around me, so I kept my clothes on for a little while longer.

When it got too hot, I unzipped my shorts. After a few more minutes, I took my top off followed by my bottoms. While I took in those sunrays, I sat there watching the waves making their way out to shore, until I needed to cool off. The calm dance of the waves and everyone’s laid-back attitude finally caught up with me. I walked along the water and took on the waves for a while, enjoying more and more every minute.

Back on the beach, I observed two handsome men walking on the sand. It was impossible to miss them, even when not scouting the beach for men. They set camp a few feet away from me. One of the guys was quite handsome. I had never seen a face so beautifully carved. He had short dirty blonde hair, defined jaw line, tall, and he might as well had been a Calvin Klein model. Fair skin, but he had already absorbed some of Barcelona’s sunrays. His friend was just as tall, short dark hair, sported a scruff and appeared to be only a few years older.

When I was ready to leave the beach, I built up the courage to do my own thrill seeking. It was my version of running side by side with the bulls, not knowing how far I could take it before they turned on me. I rolled my towel and threw it in my bag along with my shorts. I put my top on and walked towards them.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if I could have a cigarette,” I said. I saw both of them smoking cigarettes earlier, and in Europe, it’s the easiest way to make friends or talk to someone.

The dark-haired guy pulled out the pack from his backpack and handed it to me.

“Could I borrow your lighter as well?” He handed me the lighter.  I sat down next to them, and he helped shelter the lighter from the wind so I could light my cigarette. “Where are you guys from?” I asked as I inhaled the smoke trying not to cough. Since I don’t usually smoke, it took every inch of strength in me not to cough.

“Austria,” the handsome one said.

“Where are you from?” Asked his friend.

“Chicago.”

“Are you on Holiday?” Asked the Handsome one. Those four words were the most beautiful words ever spoken, in an accent and manner that accelerated my heartbeat, and his eyes, the color of honey, looked directly at me waiting for a response.

“I am, and you?”

“Yes.”

The conversation was brief. We agreed to meet up the next day at some place near La Rambla, but like many promises, it wasn’t kept. Making it romantic to think about that one handsome guy I met at the beach in Barcelona. And when I reminisce, in my thoughts, the memory has an aroma of pure romance.

I got up and walked away smoking my cigarette, the most daring one I had ever smoked. I continued walking by the beach until I reached the point where I had to put my shorts back on. The person I was when I arrived at the beach was not the same person who left. That is the beauty of travel it challenges a person. There is always an uncomfortable situation, or cultural barrier, and there’s always an open invitation to run side by side with the bulls.

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