From the edge of Park Güell’s upper platform, a multi-level park propped on candle stick columns, I see La Sagrada Familia, an anthill rising in the distance. At this time of day, the sun sets just the right amount and there is a multi-colored salamander warming itself on the wall. With one eye to the past and one to the future, I watch it with curiosity roll both eyes to find me.
“I’m tired of holding on to the present,” it says.
There is a wiggle of movement and it jumps down to a park bench and over a wall held together by cigar bands. Light reflects like a prism, colors shine from the spectacular slick skin that throws rainbows like Skittles, like silver points from an eighties disco ball.
Its tongue flickers. It is long and lashes out to lick the air, tasting the sweat of tourists who’ve made the climb; the bitterness of the coffee locals drink, the smell of fish along the restaurant row near the docks, the cafés along La Rambla, some distance, some blocks away.
La Sagrada Familia stands in the distance, watching over Barcelona, calling out “¡Venido aquí!” to those who will listen. The salamander hears the cry and scurries off to talk to an old man. The man tips his hat politely to the slithering kaleidoscope of color. He points his cane, tells the salamander to be careful, the streets can be dangerous. “Remember,” he says. “Gaudi will protect you.”
“I will,” it replies and moves on.
The salamander’s birdbath eyes of cold fall rain blink as it runs down the street.
We run together listening to music play from the shops along the way. It weeps at the youth spread out on the long, wide sidewalks.
“Everyone feels like that sometimes,” it says. “Taste it.”
My senses fill with flavors, smells, colors, tactile emotions the aging have forgotten as they wither and die. “Which is all you can expect, yes, all of you,” it says, reading my thoughts. “Each day you wake with anticipation, waiting to be stuffed back into life after breakfast while pieces of your essence are missing, sloughed off the night before. You don’t even notice.”
Its head bends back over a neck curved like a great river and says, “Miguelitos baked by a loving hand can only be so good for so long. Life will exist, but museums are homes to our memories and castles are eventually rocky hilltops. Barcelona is the future without right angles or straight lines. One can see the entropy of the world in Barcelona. It is a vast plain with no one to the rescue.”
The salamander’s tongue flickers. I try to hold on to the thought. “Is the city one gigantic theme park and not a city at all?” I ask. Pictures crash through my veins. “This is a far cry from my great city of ordinary, of cellophane, of the crispy-fried-life I know.”
“A certain seriousness is required to live each day in an amusement park,” the salamander murmurs. “To let others on rides ahead of you, to share your hotdog and potato chips, to be content with the ridiculousness of life on any one day, this is hard work for Americans.”
“We’re told we are assaulted on all sides,” I say.
“Yes, but, it is the same everywhere. Here we eat, we drink. Work is second and there is always soup for you.”
I look around and watch the movement of its winding body. It bends with each step and I don’t understand why it won’t break.
It says, “You must understand that here, a mutual singularity of purpose of a grand idea exists, that of the inevitability of life being less serious than we think it is. That is our secret.”
“Understanding seems more persistent here than coerced cooperation,” I say once we reach La Sagrada Familia. I wonder if there is a difference between this salamander winding its way through Barcelona to climb one of the eight towers of Gaudi’s church and a rodent wearing red shorts and suspenders; my mind whirls. I think I hear “now you’re getting it” as its words are drowned out by the vastness above me and my Barcelona guide disappears into a crack of the concrete wall.