“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. – Pablo Picasso”.
On a sunny October morning, Amelia fathomed the depth of a graffiti inscribed on a wall of a buzzing La Rambla street. Though it had been a while since she had moved to Barcelona, Spain, the artistic aura of the city still captivated her. Appeased with herself, Amelia smiled knowing that she had made the right decision.
She looked at her watch and it was fifteen minutes to twelve pm. She opened up a big red umbrella that read ‘‘Amigo Tour Agency” and wore her badge around her neck that spelled out her name in black bold letters, big enough for anyone to recognize from a distance. Her black hair floated in the soft breeze and her luminous olive complexion reflected the sun’s light. Standing tall at 5’8 in brown khakis and a red polo, she was hard to miss.
In next few minutes, she was approached by a middle-aged English couple, “Hi, are you from the tour agency? We are here for the walking tour.”
“Of course” Amelia flashed her best smile as she diverted her attention from the graffiti, “Let’s wait for another 10 minutes so that everybody’s here.”
A group of enthusiastic tourists soon began to swarm around her. At exactly twelve pm, she gathered her audience as she cleared her throat to recite the same speech that she had been reciting every day for past six months.
“Hello everyone, I am Amelia Buch and I welcome you all to the walking tour by Amigo tour agency. Today, I’ll take you through some of the best works in the history of architecture by the legendary Antoni Gaudí i Corne also known as just Gaudi in… English language. Spanish speakers can join my friend José in that circle.” She pointed across the road where another group of people stood with their backs showing. She paused for a smile as a few people left. “Okay, so that’s 4 less.” She resumed. “For those of you who are here today because they didn’t have anything better to do this afternoon, rest assured that you have made the right decision because Gaudian architecture is the essence of this beautiful city of Catalonia and without this experience your trip remains INCOMPLETE.
To give a brief introduction about myself. I am from England and I am half-British, half-Indian. I decided to take a gap year after university and come to Barcelona for a month-long vacation. Well, this was about a year back.” Some people in the group chuckled. “I would say I am still discovering this city and it amazes me how much it has to offer, including the sun which you barely see in England. I love my job as I get to meet people like yourself from across the globe on an EVERYDAY basis! How cool is that.
That’s pretty much all about me. Now let’s hear your names and country. How about we start from this end of the circle?”
Over the next four hours, Amelia took her tourists through Palau Güell, Plaça Reial, Block of Discord, Casa Batlló, Passeig de Gràcia, La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia, saving the best for the last. At the end of the tour, the tourists often tipped her generously for her accuracy of facts and her energy that she would continue to maintain throughout.
After the tour was over, Amelia would stop by café Viena for lunch, usually accompanied by some of the people from the tour. She had now become a regular at this café which was a cozy little restaurant near Sagarda Familia. The staff treated her warmly and the owner Javier was a heavyset man in his early fifties with curly locks of black hair. Javier never charged Amelia for food as she always brought new customers through her tourists.
Everyday, Amelia would sit at the same spot in café Viena which was a quiet corner by the window. Now a routine, she would first order her espresso and then count the tip she had received for the day. Then she would order ‘today’s special’ for lunch. Sometimes her quiet routine would be interrupted by over-zealous tourists who would ask for recommendations for places to see, food to eat and clubs to go to. Amelia always answered patiently to all the questions for she related to being a foreigner in a new city. She remembered what it was like when she had just moved to Barcelona. She didn’t speak the language and was completely clueless about where to begin but the locals had helped her figure out everything, from an accommodation to a job and she felt like she owed a lot to this city especially after everything she had been through.
After she finished her lunch, she would either read a book or draw sketches of people who stopped by the café for a coffee or a drink. She found it absolutely intriguing the variety of people who visited the café on an everyday basis from across the world. It seemed almost orchestrated how strangers in strange clothes with strange accents would blend in. Strangers that would describe the city with brand new perspectives and enthusiasm towards things that had been constant in the Catalonian streets for hundreds of years. Strangers who walked out as friends and lovers.
At the end of the day, Amelia would walk back to her apartment which was in Carrer de Còrsega, a place she had discovered with Javier’s assistance and was a fifteen minutes’ walk from the Viena. She had rented a tiny studio apartment on the 3rd floor of a private building. The owner was an amicable old woman named Mariana who lived on the first floor.
Amelia had decorated her apartment with posters of artworks by Dali, Degas, Picasso, Goya, da Vinci, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. She had studied 20th century arts during her under graduate program in London and had been especially taken by the works of Pablo Picasso. She appreciated the modern artist’s talent, struggles, spirit and his attitude towards life but more than anything she admired his display of boundless uninhibited imagination. There was no apprehensions in venturing. Though ages apart, he inspired her in ways and it was this inspiration that prompted her to write a thesis on him. She believed that researching about him might throw some light on her own self as an artist. It was then she had decided to move to Spain, Picasso’s birth place.
At exactly eight pm, she would call her grandma who lived in Birmingham to tell her all about her day. It had been a ritual for past six years, since the day Amelia had moved out from her home to the university hostel. There had been a brief period of time when she resented calling her grandma everyday but over time she had realized that through every thick and thin, this was the only thing that had remained constant in time – a phone call to her grandma at eight PM and now it had become a habit ingrained so deep that her mental alarm triggered off naturally no matter how busy she was or in which corner of the world she was.
Chapter 2 – The Rendezvous
One Saturday afternoon, Amelia noticed a poster of a band performance outside café Viena , when she reached their after finishing her tour. She approached Javier who didn’t notice her coming as his eyes were glued to the television screen showing Barcelona vs Valencia and the latter was making the former sweat. Javier almost looked cross.
‘Isn’t 25 euros a lot to see some random band? I could see Imagine Dragons for 30 pounds in London. I haven’t even heard of these guys.’ Amelia said as she sat on the chair next to Javier.
“Ah…not you Amelia. You don’t judge music by cover. And why you worry? We no charge you. Plus these guys play good music. Even English music.” Javier for the first time removed his eyes from the screen to give Amelia a quick friendly wink.
“English music in Spain. Jackpot. And by the way, it is a book by its cover.”
Later that night, Amelia reach Viena 20 minutes before the performance was to begin. The stage was being set up and she observed that people from all age groups had come to see the performance. The Viena was buzzing with couples, friends and families and all seemed to be animatedly chatting. A few minute later, the band members walked up to the stage.
The band opened with a subtle ‘Stand by me’ by Ben E. King and progressed to ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson. In no time, the people were singing along and by the end of an hour-long performance that was concluded ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley, a lot of people were dancing including Amelia herself, who was utterly thrilled. The ‘once more’ chant resonated so loud in the jam-packed café that the band had to return for one last song after which the lights were turned on and everyone had risen to give a standing ovation.
Amelia noticed that Clarence, the lead singer, was standing at the bar surrounded by people who wanted to congratulate him for their extraordinary performance. He was a colored man in his mid-forties who got freckles around his eyes when he smiled. Unable to contain herself, Amelia approached him herself when the other fans had left.
“I think you are crazzzyyy.” Amelia sang the last song from their gig as she approached Clarence.
“Thank you for coming today.” Clarence replied smiling eye to eye. He was still soaked in sweat after all the jumping and singling on the stage.
“Oh well, thank youu for performing today. The last one and a half hour was entrancing. Bewitching. Captivating. I can keep on talking. I can’t believe I never saw you guys before!”
Clarence laughed “Thank you so much love. We perform every Thursday at Jamboree. You must be new here”
“Well, I have been here for a year now though I must admit that today feels like a ‘Eureka’ moment.”
“haha, Thank you. Would you like a beer?
“Ya sure.” Clarence signaled the bartender for two beers. They had been joined by other fans who wanted to thank Clarence for the great performance.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doin alone here?” Clarence asked when others had left and it was just the two of them.
“Well…” Amelia blushed at the compliment. “The pretty girl is on a break from the pretty boys.” Amelia stated matter-of-factly.
“Pretty boys are the worse.” Clarence responded looking almost nostalgic. “Do you wanna join the gang for the afterparty? We usually go to Marty’s after the performance. It’s round the corner.”
“Marty’s? I may have been there once or twice. It’s so overpriced and shady, I never understand why people go there”. Amelia looked unimpressed.
“I see. Marty is my boyfriend so we always chill at his restaurant after the gig.” Clarence grinned.
“Oh. Oh? I am so sorry. I may have confused it with some other restaurant. Let’s go there!” Amelia replied feeling embarrassed.
“Haha, don’t worry. It’s fine. Marty is a ripper. I have to pack my guitar first”
Clarence and Amelia went to the green room where Amelia finished her beer as Clarence packed his guitar after which they left for Marty’s. It was quarter after midnight and the streets were deserted. The night was cold and Amelia reprimanded herself for not carrying a warmer jacket. After a ten minutes’ walk, Clarence and Amelia reached ‘Marty’s’ where the rest of band members were drinking and chatting. The lights were dim and yellow. The ambience matched the lights.
“There’s my hero, muchachos” Marty cheered when Clarence entered the restaurant and everyone clapped. Clarence blushed and greeted Marty with a kiss. He later introduced Amelia to his friends and band members.
“Ola, this is Amelia from London and Amelia, this is Juan, Diego, Nicolas, Matteo and this pretty lady is Africa.”
Amelia greeted each of band members with a peck on each cheek while Marty poured her some red wine. Amelia recollected that Juan was the guy on the drums, Diego on the bass guitar, Nicolas on the electric guitar and Matteo on the synthesizer.
“You guys are so amazing! I loved every bit of that performance.”
The gang smiled at the compliment. “Gracias, bella” Matteo responded.
Africa came forward to greet Amelia and said something in Spanish that Amelia did not understand.
“Que? Español, poco poco” Amelia made a hand gesture to indicate she understands little Spanish.
“No Espanol, Catalan.” Africa almost snapped. The election results were round the corner.
“I apologize, I meant Catalan. Of course.”
“Me, Matt’s girlfriend.” Africa continued. Amelia wondered if Africa was marking her territory.
“It’s lovely to meet you. I saw you cheering backstage. It’s great how supportive you are.”
“Que?” Africa called out to Diego, the guitar guy who was standing next to them in a different group, amidst a very intense discussion about Barcelona’s poor performance earlier in the match today. Africa said something to him in Spanish. “Oh so you need a translator? I charge for my services, ladies.” Diego teased, his wayfarer blue eyes alight with mischief.
Amelia noticed that he was wearing a wedding band and her heart sank a bit. The three of them talked for a while and after which Amelia felt like she needed a break from all the translations, iterations and hand gestures that it took to convey a simple idea. She decided to step out for some fresh air. A few minutes later she heard footsteps and saw it was Diego who had stepped out for a smoke himself.
“Fancy some Mary Jane?”
“I am a reform but by all means, please carry on.” Amelia chuckled.
“Then let’s keep it that way.” She watched as Diego went on to roll his cigarette. There was a minute of silence and Amelia noticed there were very fine lines at his forehead which she hadn’t noticed earlier in the dim lights. She wondered how old he was.
“How long have you been playing?”
“5 years with this band and before this I was a solo artist for almost a decade.”
“Wow.” So he must be somewhere in his mid-thirties but then why does he look like he is in his mid-twenties.
“Yes, I don’t remember doing anything else except for playing music. It keeps me in balance and these guys…they are like family.” Diego continued.
“That’s just commendable, dedicating your life to something you really love.”
“Yes, it is. So what brings you to Barcelona?”
“I am actually writing a thesis on early life of Pablo Picasso and I work as a tour guide during the day.”
“Oh really! I am a big fan of Picasso and I totally love some of his works, you know like Bottle, Glass, Fork painting and of course the famous painting of his girlfriends..Les Demoiselles d’Avigon, saw it when I was in States. Quite a revolutionary that guy.”
“Well, I swear by that-guy and yes, he did like to mix his wine, women and art.”
“but hey, Madrid has a better collection some say. Did you check that out?”, he said as he took a long drag.
“Actually, I do have a trip planned in a couple of weeks. I must admit that I am quite impressed to see your interest in art.”
“What? Whyyy? Because I am a guitarist am I supposed to be all about drugs and alcohol?” Deigo teased pretending to look hurt.
“And women” Amelia added, “and Nooooo. Come ‘on! Even non guitarists don’t like to talk about arts and let’s not forget that you are wearing the clichéd leather jacket!!”, Amelia exclaimed.
“Well, I like modern art, Cubism for one and then I too must admit that my wife used to work at an art gallery and I did my homework right.” Diego smiled like a child who had been caught cheating in an exam.
“I see. Wouldn’t it upset your wife that you are not home yet? It’s 3am” Amelia carefully asked.
“I guess it did upset her but it doesn’t… anymore.”
“I wouldn’t blame her, any girl would be threatened if her husband was a hot guitarist” Amelia blurted.
“Well… we separated a few months back.” Diego said.
“I am sorry to hear that.” Amelia could see he looked sad.
“It’s okay, been a while. Time heals” Diego said drawing a long breath. Amelia could feel an awkward silence creeping in and wondered if she had brought up a sensitive subject.
“So..you think I am hot?” Diego asked feigning to look serious but his mischevious smile gave him away.
“Noo…” Amelia laughed. “Or maybe yes, don’t be so smug!” Diego chuckled. “Maybe I could read your work sometime.”
“Really? I could use some feedback. You should come by Viena sometime. I am usually there in the evenings after wrapping up the tour.”
They went back inside when Diego finished his smoke. Inside, Clarence was strumming his guitar and playing a Christmas song. Marty was standing next to him and playing a Tambourine. Some others had formed a circle around them and were singing along with him. There were couples who had started dancing by the bar. There was happiness in the air similar to what it was like when the band was performing at the café. Amelia and Diego joined others and the night turned into an early morning before they all went back to their homes. This was definitely a night that Amelia would remember.
Chapter 3 -The Rose period
Over next few days, Amelia would frequently stop by the studio where the band practiced and jammed. She would see them writing, rewriting songs and practicing notes a hundred times over. There were cycles of frustrations, struggles, progress that would ultimately culminate into grand celebrations. In a short time, she had developed a healthy friendship with all the other band members including Africa, who loved to click photographs while the band practiced. They would sometimes go back to Africa’s apartment with a tiny darkroom where she taught Amelia how to develop photographs. Amelia noticed that most of the photos were of Matteo, capturing him in his various moods and just like Amelia, she liked to capture people when they were not watching. “These are the moments of truth,” she remarked.
Amelia learned through Africa that Clarence had been a street artist for almost a decade before he got his first break. It was through one of the locals, who happened to be present in his audience, who gave him an opportunity to perform at a restaurant near Park Guell. He was hired on a trial basis but in no time became a permanent employee as his music lured great number of audience who turned into customers for the restaurant and since then, there has been no looking back for Clarence. It was Clarence who had eventually discovered other band members with time and formed their band.
That night after Amelia came back home, she searched for his videos on YouTube and surprisingly she came across a number of them uploaded by random tourists. Those videos depicted a young Clarence playing his guitar with his guitar case laid out in front of him. Back then he had a much slender frame and shoulder length hair in dreadlocks but the exact same smile that spread eye to eye. There were people dropping change in his guitar case every now and then as he sang some of the songs that he still did with a spirit that had only grown if not remained consistent with time. At that moment, Amelia felt almost guilty for telling Javier that 25 euros were too much for a local gig.
Next day when Amelia went to the studio she gave Clarence a hug. “What’s up sunshine?” he asked a little surprised. “Can’t a friend just hug another friend?” Amelia replied authoritatively throwing her hands in the air and left smiling.
The incident with Clarence and her time with Africa made Amelia wonder if she had undermined her favorite subject, the people. Something that even Picasso never did who on the contrary loved to explore his muses in various shades and perhaps that brought out the finer artist in him, she wondered.
Amelia that day went back to her apartment to open the folder where she stacked all her sketches. For the first time she noticed that although her drawings were technically accurate, they perhaps failed to talk to its viewer and convey certain emotions. Later, she opened a photo of Diego in her phone and started drawing it on a blank canvas. A few hours later, after she was finished drawing she looked at it for a long time and realized how happy she was in that moment to have met everyone who had become a part of her life in these past few days. But more than anyone, she felt happy for having met Diego, who talked like a child but behaved like an adult. He was kind, compassionate and honest. Every day after the practice sessions, Diego would walk her back home and it had now become an unsaid ritual. Amelia eagerly waited for the day to end for those fifteen minutes of walk back home. She loved how he talked very openly about things. He was always eager to tell her how his day went and ask her about hers in return. He described even the minutest things in details and waited for a reaction. It was as if her opinion mattered to him.
Amelia wondered if this is the life that she always wanted and all the pain in the past had been culminating for this moment in her life. She loved how she had built an environment around her that fostered creativity and not only her mental health was improving but she was also growing as an artist. That night, she decided that she would express her feelings to Diego but before that she had to tell her Grandma. She poured herself a glass of wine and said a little prayer in her heart, thanking the stars for the family she never had. Next day, Amelia reached the studio after wrapping up her tour but couldn’t find Diego. He had left for Seville to meet his ex-wife.
…to be continuted.
Picture Courtesy: http://imgfave.com/view/5142195?r=pin