As my building is about 120 feet long, I have been using its length as a track. Walking back and forth in my apartment means rolling back rugs, dodging furniture and being judged by a cat with an acerbic eye. On the roof I can jog a little, walk uninterruptedly and look about the neighborhood. Sometimes others are out on their roofs, not walking but reading, sunbathing or, probably illegally, chatting with a boy friend.
Since the roof is two stories higher than my apartment I can look down on the roofs of the hospital; I can look up to Tibidabo. In local legend the hill is the spot to which Satan took Christ to tempt him with the material world, namely Barcelona. Tibidabo is translated as Satan’s words, “To thee I give.” I have never been up to see the church but a friend told me it is better at a distance. It certainly is a romantic pile on top of the hill.
Looking about me while jogging, a little, walking, a lot, I thought I had discovered a hidden structure, church like, in the middle of the next block. I was quite excited by my little mystery. It took me two days to discover, to my chagrin, that I was looking at the back of the church of Sant Augusti, not a very interesting structure built in the early 18th century and never finished. What is most interesting about it is this unfinished quality, the rough angularity of the stones on its left side and above the porch, which were to have been covered with an ornate, baroque façade. The funding never appeared and neither did the façade. Its parishioners are, as far as I have been able to tell, down to the last baptized baby, Philippine. They have lovely parades down Hospital accompanied by drums in which the women glow happily in evening dresses and the men look embarrassed in suits.
In May, on Saint Rita’s day, the square is a perfumed lake of rose sellers. Saint Rita is a saint of hopeless cases, los imposibles, and her acolytes come to buy a rose taking it to be blessed in her chapel.
The roof is wonderful because I am out in the open; I can hear the bells ringing from various churches on the quarter hour; I can see the birds above and around me. There is a pair of gulls who nest in some cranny of the hospital. When their young approach adolescence they bring them up to a flat place among the tiles to be fed and learn to fly. One, I’ve no idea whether it’s the husband or wife, broke a leg some months ago. One-leg carries the leg at an awkward angle. Since the red tile roofs of the hospital are pitched, she/he has difficulty landing with stability. But one-leg has survived six months or more now and seems to manage, although I hold my breath with anxiety at every landing.
Not that one should be sentimental about gulls who are murderers. In Venice once I saw one grab a sparrow and drown it by holding it under the water. The sparrow fought hard struggling and splashing in a small storm of wings in the canal but that gull beak held it under firmly until it was still.
There are also parrots, screaming, green flashes. They are escaped pets who have flourished among the palm trees in the streets and squares of Barcelona. They also kill off the sparrows. Mourning doves cry softly among the antennas. Magpies strut arrogantly, chic in their black and white outfits, decidedly decorative against the red tiles. The pigeons, of course, moan and spatter in trees, on roofs and coast up and down the street just below the level of the eaves.
Sometimes my upstairs neighbor joins me at the proper distance on the roof. He has breakfast under a sort of sail he has set up and reads the paper on Sunday or he brings up his computer to talk to friends or hold meetings. He works for the Ajuntament, the local government, of Barcelona. He is an architect and he has painted the walls around the roof with starry skies that waver with colors like an aurora borealis and big initials whose, significance I don’t know. His daughter is with him. I have yet to ask where his son is, possibly in the country. His wife is in Madrid doing work for Barcelona’s educational institutions. I love them dearly.
One night when I first moved into the apartment, I went to the opera taking only the keys for my door on the elevator landing. When I returned home the elevator was broken and I needed the key I had not taken with me to the door on the stair. We found a locksmith at that late hour but he was no use, so they kindly took their daughter into bed with them and I slept in Sara’s bed that night.
Living alone I love hearing their footsteps above me. It is a comforting sound. I know Sara’s footsteps, her bedroom is over mine, because she is always on the run. Once when she was about ten or eleven I was awakened, not late, by a rumbling overhead. I pulled on my bathrobe to go up and find out what she was up to. When Marta, her mother, opened the door, I asked, “What is Sara doing?” Marta shrugged and called down the hall, “Sara?” Sara rolled out of her room on her skateboard, took one look at me and understood everything.
On days like today, when it rains and the roof is not an option I walk in the house, looking out at the slick, wet tiles of the hospital roof in front and the pale, hard little buds on my potted olive trees on the terrace. Soon they will burst into clusters of white flowers. By that time I may be able to do 4 circuits jogging with two of walking in between. At the moment I am doing three circuits jogging followed by three walking until I have done fifteen. Then I stop and gaze out the window before starting again. I am able to do five to ten kilometers. Today I did six in the morning.
Rain in Barcelona is a different. Sometimes it comes down like rain anywhere but mostly it falls tenderly in separate drops so that you can almost walk between its gentle splashes. The attitude toward this wet caress of lluvia is odd to me. A friend will call and say, “I can’t come to lunch today. It’s raining.”
I will stop writing this now to feed the cat and do three or four more circuits. She seems to have stopped pooping in the tiled corner of the living room; may this continue.