For the past 12 years of my life, I have lived within walking distance of Central Park. On 59th street, buzzing tourists, occupied yellow cabs and apathetic horses clutter the entrance by the Plaza Hotel and the Apple Store. In its famous aerial views, Central Park neatly aligns into the Manhattan grid pierced by skyscrapers as a rectangle, roughly the size of Monaco. Packed inside are 30 tennis courts, 26 ballfields, 6 bodies of water, 2 ice-skating rinks, a theatre, a carousel, even some penguins and polar bears.
Its energy cannot be ignored, and its beauty cannot be denied. The four seasons roll through its landscape effortlessly, maintaining postcard-perfect images and coveted shooting locations, all year round. During those 12 years bound by concrete, glass and steel, I still managed to take the park for granted and failed to realize why, until I spent a year in Barcelona.
The first time that I came across El Parc de la Ciutadella was a matter of chance. It wasn’t until I followed a dirt path lined by palm trees that I saw it. My eyes failed to understand, so they widened. Turquoise water glistened over Gaudi’s carved rocks, cascading down curved steps. Dense bushes lavished the back, and from it Venus was born. The Botticelli painting was a waterfall, hosting characters from horses to griffins, and of course – the goddess in front of her shell.
I could not stop moving my feet. Convinced that it could not be that exquisite from every angle, I circled its front with my eyes still fixed. I let the awe soak in. Realizing that there were some tourists around, I became one. After what I had just discovered, it didn’t matter.
Barcelona was a land for collecting memories, the kind not suited for gigabytes. In the first months that I had been there, the world lit up with new experiences, faces and words.When the sun was lost behind the sea, I’d try to sleep with Spanish darting through my mind. I hung my laundry up on cables that ran across the courtyard and one morning, I even made a friend who was trembling a parallel cable. That same day, I poured gazpacho, masked by a milk carton, into my coffee. The liquid tomato slowly diffused. I knew right then, that I probably would never forget that Spanish anecdote, or if you ask a local – Catalan.
The rest of the year passed by packed with stories. These memories multiplied as I reacted to something or someone, knowing that only numbered minutes or days will be shared. And as the pressing numbers dropped, it just got more special.
I had grown attached, even when I was too busy letting the awe settle. I started bumping into acquaintances in plaças, and picking up daily baguettes for my wonderfully open, eclectic host family. Returning to New York made me realize it was the ciutadella where I had been doing what I did in Barcelona but for 12 years.
Ciutadella is Catalan for fortified city. And if I didn’t do its fairytale park any justice, here’s another try: