It’s about seven in the evening when Hubby and I step down from the sleek, soundproof, vacuum-sealed fast train from Madrid into the whirling bustle of the station platform in Barcelona. We are jarred by the transition from the smooth gliding whoosh of the train over tracks to the cacophony of distorted Spanish coming over the loudspeakers mixed with the flamenco tempo of Spaniards hurrying towards exits, connecting trains, and embraces of loved ones greeting them. It is a heady aural cocktail.
Barcelona is the final stop in our two-week Spanish honeymoon. Our trip has been filled with Moorish castles, frigidly clear blue skies, intricate tapestries of royal gardens, and the ever-present orange trees glowing with fruit. We have craned our necks to see soaring Catholic cathedrals, we have dissected snowy olive orchards in trains, slipped down freezing city streets and found refuge in warm cocoons of world-class art museums. We are tired, dazed, and experiencing a bit of sensory overload at the wealth of experiences to which Spain has treated us. We are almost numb to the magic of the journey by now, and are caught up in the mundane timetable of travel.
After depositing our meager gear at the apartment we rented, we decide it’s time to eat, and go off in search of vittles down Las Ramblas. By this time, we have had more than our fair share of bocadillos, the ubiquitous ham sandwich that haunts every food stand in train stations, department stores, museums and street corner. No more bocadillos for me.
A few blocks down Las Ramblas, we spot a falafel shop.
Now, Hubby and I have some criteria when it comes to deciding where to eat. We look for places that are clean, but not sterile, meaning there should be a little bit of disorder to the place. Somewhat tacky interior decoration is always a plus. Food we can’t get on an everyday basis usually gets our vote. We judge places by the spice factor, eschewing the more common meat and potatoes if we can choose “exotic fare” like lamb and cous cous instead. And of course, we look at who is actually dining in the restaurant already. Does it look like a tourist hang out? Or does it seem like more of an everyday joint that residents patronize?
This little falafel restaurant seems to qualify as the latter. Plus, I’m hungry and grouchy, and so we go in.
The gentleman behind the counter is a bit surprised to see us, but hands us a laminated menu with pictures. We point to what we would like to have and he obliges.
We sit down with our booty and eat. It’s delicious; hot, a touch greasy with lots of spices and flavor oozing through. There are a variety of sauces to douse the falafel in and Hubby uses Every Single One. It’s the perfect first meal in Barcelona. Unpretentious, filling, and welcoming.
As we eat, a couple of gentlemen at the next table watch us. They listen in on our conversation and look a bit confused. Finally, one of the men comes up to us and asks us politely in perfect English from where we hail. We tell him Seattle, and suddenly he understands why we are speaking English.
His face brightens up and he tells us he’s from Morocco, but he got his masters in America. He goes on to say how he started school in Boston, and then left because he found the people there to be too stern for his liking and the winters too forbidding for his tastes.
He tells us he moved to Phoenix and finished his degree at Arizona State University.
I look at him carefully, and ask WHEN was he there.
It turns out he was there at the same time I was.
We look at each other in astonishment, and then we start to laugh. It seems impossible, yet it has happened. Two independently-spinning circles have actually intersected. This is the stuff of winning lottery tickets. This is like walking through a rain shower while the sun paints a rainbow at our feet. We chuckle and talk a bit more about life, coincidence, and the weather. Our conversation is wreathed in the goodwill of people who have nothing in common and yet have something in common. Hubby and I finish our dinner, say goodnight, and return to our apartment.
As we meander back up Las Ramblas, we hold hands and bask in the afterglow of a good meal and the fact that a dinky falafel shop has been the convergence point for two unrelated humans. There’s something wonderful about it; there’s something magical about it. It seems fitting that it would happen in Spain.