Palm trees sway in the ocean breeze, hiding chattering green parakeets in their leaves outside our living room window. Behind them lies a wide sandy beach and the blue-green Mediterranean sparkling in the sun. The constant roll of waves mixes with the sounds of mourning doves cooing, people chatting in Spanish while walking their dogs on the asphalt paseo (beachside walkway), an occasional car or scooter passing by on the street below, or a truck unloading goods for the supermarket downstairs. From our third-floor apartment, above the market, we look out through a large picture window and sliding glass doors opening onto a large tiled deck overlooking this beach scene.
Unexpectedly, we face south—we are on a small section of Spain’s coast below Barcelona that cuts inland before pointing toward Africa. We get sun all day—when we first arrived in December, we could see the sunrise to our left and sunset to our right, all from the same deck. The tourism board nearby says this area gets 300 days of sunshine per year, and so far we believe it. The air is fresh, breezy, and somewhat cool for now, but we can feel the intensity of the sun. It’s far from tropical during the winter months – we’ve had some nights in the 30s F, but when the sun comes out, it warms to the 50s, 60s, and more recently, into the 70s. The water is not quite Maine-cold, but close. We’re told it warms up, but for now the cool air and water combined make swimming a feat for the ultra-hardy.
This is changing, of course, as we head into spring. Ice-cream shops, restaurants, and stores that had been boarded up are now springing to life. Families are starting to spread blankets on the sand while the young ones dig, the teens play volleyball or soccer on the beach, and the older adults play bocce on beachside courts. More people are on the paseo—walking, running, scootering, roller-blading, biking, or just hanging out. On this part of the coast, things are quieter and less crowded (and less expensive) than closer to Barcelona, but we can see how this will change even here when summer comes around. A large open field nearby is being marked for beach parking. The apartment buildings that have been undergoing renovations or under construction all winter are starting to open up. The many balconies in front of once-shuttered apartments are beginning to show more signs of life, and rents will go up significantly in June.
We are in Segur de Calafell (ca-la-fey), about 50 km (30 miles) south of Barcelona, next to a larger town called just Calafell. Both towns have their own stops on the train to Barcelona, though express trains do not stop here. While most of the buildings along the beach were built within the last 50 years, the old part of town goes much further back. There’s a cave in the hills where prehistoric remains 21,000 years old were found, part of a fortress from the 6th century BCE that can still be visited, and a church/citadel from the 11th century AD, when the origins of Calafell as a town were first documented. Fishermen began to settle here in the 18th century, and a fortified tower was built to protect them from Barbary Coast pirates—hence the name “Segur” (seguro means safe or secure). Fishing remained an important part of the local livelihood until the 1950s, when tourism became the core of the economy.
This is the place we are calling home while we are in Spain. We landed here almost by chance (see Scouting Spain) but have been so happy we did. After so much moving from place to place last year and at the start of our time in Spain, we were looking forward to settling into one apartment for a while and outfitting it with the comforts we enjoy but didn’t want to carry with us on planes, trains, and automobiles. So we bought inexpensive yoga mats, coffee mugs, beach towels, spices, olive oil, and a paella pan. I bought a guitar I hope to sell again before we leave. Rachel bought what she needs to make cookies (yay!). We even bought sunscreen, shaving cream, and shampoo in bottles bigger than 3 ounces!
We’ve been asked how we spend our time here when we’re not visiting other places. And in fact, we wondered what it would be like ourselves. I can say this: We have never been bored.
For starters, there’s that view. We appreciate it every day. We wake up early (for Spaniards) when the sun is rising around 7 or 7:30, walk out to the living room and take a deep breath. Despite being so close to the Mediterranean, there is not the same smell I associate with oceans from the East Coast of the U.S. The air is not especially salty; there’s little seaweed. It’s more a breath to be mindful of being here. We stretch and exercise on our yoga mats laid out next to the big windows (and anticipate warmer mornings when we can exercise on the deck). We have breakfast looking out at the palm trees and waves. If only everyone could start their day this way, I suspect the world would be a much calmer place.
After breakfast, we tend to focus our minds on whatever may need attention that day. I continue to consult on strategic communications for my favorite Harvard center as well as other social-change organizations. Rachel does the heavy lifting for planning all of our excursions and visitors in Spain, and we’ve even begun thinking about next year’s plans. Like everyone else, we have a budget and finances to manage, taxes to file, medical matters to deal with; laundry to do. Occasionally we even have blog posts to write! We try to fit in at least an hour of Spanish-learning each day (in various online formats), catch up on the U.S. news, and run errands before the shops close down for siesta in the afternoon. Mornings here are middle-of-the-night in the U.S., so this is a good time to concentrate and get things done.
Lunches are typically eaten late here – usually around 2 pm – and tend to linger. We’ve been trying to adjust our inner clocks to this new schedule, with some success. So we have our biggest meal of the day at lunchtime, and then eat a light dinner at 7:30 or 8. I must admit, the Spanish tradition of a siesta after lunch has seemed pretty appealing, and on some days I have fully embraced the ritual.
But the afternoons are also for walking—the sun has warmed the air by then, most locals are having their quiet time, and the days are ripe for a long walk along the paseo—depending on how much time we have, anywhere from an hour to 3 hours. The paseo that runs along the beach in front of our house goes for miles in either direction, passing through several other small towns and by a couple of marinas, always overlooking that sparkling green-blue sea.
Evenings may be spent chatting with each other, with family and friends, or the occasional work call when it’s still daytime in the U.S. I play my guitar—I’ve even written two new songs while being here! We have our books, our crosswords, and we’ve been watching a succession of Netflix series set in Spain. By the end of the day, we inevitably still have a to-do list for tomorrow. We have often said that’s a good thing—the day you have finished everything on your to-do list is the day you are no longer among the living.
We are (well, Rachel is) also making an effort to create community here, and two or three times a week she will take a short train ride for a meet-up. There are “intercambios”, which are groups in which Spanish speakers and English speakers can practice one another’s language, and “Knit and Natter,” for which Rachel took up knitting again in order to join in the fun. At least once a week it seems we are heading out somewhere to meet up with new friends nearby, to whom we are grateful for all of the tips about parades, fiestas, and in-season delicacies that need to be eaten! We take day trips to Barcelona, find nearby hikes, and spend time with guests here for a visit.
Every Friday, there’s a street market in front of our house that extends up and down the paseo. We hear the vendors early in the morning setting up their tents and tables, spreading out their wares – clothes, shoes, housewares, crafts – and by mid-morning they are shouting out “un euro un euro un euro!”, “Barato barato!” (cheap, cheap!) or “Hola guapa!” (a friendly and complimentary way of calling over customers). Further down are rows of fresh fruit and vegetable stands where we stock up on a week’s worth of deliciousness. There are cheese and Iberian jamón (ham) cutters, olive and pickle vendors, plus nuts and candies and eggs and spices for sale. And of course, a truck serving hot churros and chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth.
We see people who must be regulars at all of these stands, chatting with the vendors and each other. And while we have our favorite stands and vendors too, we know that it would take much longer than five months—and much better Spanish—for us to really feel like we are a part of the community. “Home for now” is not the same as “home.”
But compared to living out of our suitcases, having a home base has been a revelation. Now when we travel to other places using this apartment as a base, we travel much lighter, with only a backpack and at most one suitcase between us. And then we come home to the comforts we enjoy, breathe a deep, contented sigh, and appreciate our view all over again.
5 thoughts on “Home Is Where the Yoga Mat Is”
Always illuminating, enriching and inspiring, as well as, beautifully written. Thanks.
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Mi casa es tus casa and I am hugely excited that we will soon join you there. You have done the “heavy lifting” so we can all gather together and enjoy each other and Calafell’s wonders. Gracias, gracias. Con besos.
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It was really nice to be learn more about the town that you’ve been calling home for the past several months. It definitely seems like a great place to be and I’m looking forward to hearing more stories about it as time goes on!
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Sounds fabulous and found myself taking that morning breath as you described it! Having a home base sounds like a game changer—thanks for the update!!
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Thanks for another good post. I’ll be spending 3 months in Europe this year (late summer) but I don’t really have an itinerary yet other than I’ll definitely be in Norway in October. Can you send me a link to the place you’re at? Stay safe and enjoy!