Els Quatre Gats Café: Barcelona, Spain
My first encounter with a Spanish cultural phenomenon was unplanned, but very useful. Fueled by love of coffee and aversion to the early morning, it was not long before I wandered into one the many cafés lining the streets of Barcelona. Having just learned the typical coffee drinks in Spain from our program leaders, I confidently walked up to the counter and ordered “un café con leche por favor, para tomar aquí” (coffee with milk please, for here), and began pulling out my wallet full of brand new euros. The barista looked at me and smiled knowingly, then responded in English, “You can sit down over there. We’ll come take your order.” I thanked her, blushing in chagrin at my all-too-obvious Americanism. I looked around sheepishly and realized that, sure enough, none of the customers walking in the door were stopping at the counter—all of them went straight to tables. It was a relaxed environment, and payment was not expected until after you were done sitting with your cup of coffee, which could take hours if you felt so inclined.
And that was often the case in Spanish culture; a hurried way of life was not common for many people. Who could blame them, when they live in a city overflowing with enchanting sanctuaries in which they could enjoy their coffee, such as Els Quatre Gats. Its charm is built on history and imagination; it is a place that was once haunted by Picasso and his avant-garde predecessors, at the height of their intellectual unrest. On walking in, I felt transported to another era, a time of big ideas and new traditions, the end of the old Barcelona and the dawn of a new, modern city exploding with culture created by Picasso’s art and Gaudi’s architecture, giving the city a true character that it still holds today. Needless to say, I was in no rush to leave.