Today there was a terrorist attack in our adopted city, Barcelona. The place we adore. Our home. A terrorist group has claimed responsibility for inspiring the horrific incident that took the lives of at least 12 innocents with scores more victims in the hospital tonight. Some reports say more attacks may be in store over the coming days.
When the news broke Señor Aventura and I had just come back to our apartment with the three Aventura children after enjoying a very typical three hour Catalan lunch with our good friend here in the city, "George" who, like me, is an American teacher abroad. George is on summer vacation from his teaching position here in Barcelona and has just taken a wonderful new apartment in the area of the city near Vall D'Hebron. He'd invited us to meet up for lunch and to see his place.
Lunch in Spain is a very relaxed affair, especially in the month of August when the city is essentially shut down and almost all of our native Catalan friends have left for a month of vacation. Restaurants are uncrowded at this time of year (when you're far from the tourist action) and it was fairly easy to find a table.
Many restaurants offer what they call a 'menu' which consists of two courses (such as paella and fish) plus a beverage (water, beer or wine) and a dessert (like flan) for 9 Euro. It's a fabulous deal, and makes eating out with the kids a real joy.
I ordered a glass of white wine and so did George. The Catalan waiter announced he'd bring us a bottle, and then he also handed a full bottle of vino tinto to my husband. We must have looked surprised to be handed two full bottles of wine because the waiter laughed and said cheerfully in Spanish, "It's a Mediterranean lunch!" Then he grinned and told my husband, "I'll call you a taxi after." Everybody laughed warmly, though we had no real intention of polishing off both bottles at 2pm. Somehow, this story feels important now.
We had such a nice time together catching up on our summer travels and plans for the new year. By the time our family got home hours later everyone was smiling and feeling quite relaxed. Our kids began to play a game and my husband sat down to accomplish a few things. I decided to put my head down for a brief, lazy August 'siesta' and had just drifted off when I heard my husband say, "Hon - there's been an attack. Looks like a terrorist attack."
"Oh no, where?" I murmured, thinking immediately of Paris and London.
"Here. Barcelona," he told me numbly. "Las Ramblas."
"Oh my gosh."
I sat up and grabbed my phone. He stayed on his laptop and we began to search for news to learn more about what was happening.
"It's still happening, I think," my husband said quietly. "I'm not sure."
Just then I got the first of many loving and concerned messages from home in California, from a dear childhood friend. "I am incredibly saddened to hear of the van attack in Barcelona. Are you guys all OK?" my friend wrote.
Immediately I responded to let her know that we were all okay, that we sent our love.
"It's all over the news," my husband nodded when I told him about the many messages of support and worry that were beginning to pour into my mobile phone via text, WhatsApp and Facebook. I called my mother, to let her know that we were safe.
Barcelona is a huge city. With a population of 1.6 million (not including tourists) within the city limits and five million people in the greater metropolitan area, the density of each block is very high. As it happens, we live far from Las Ramblas... it's a 27 minute drive from our building to the epicenter of the attack.
Standing out on our balcony overlooking the city, you would never have known anything was amiss. Bicyclists continued to cycle slowly up the street, people walked with their kids, music played from an apartment somewhere nearby.
About an hour after we first heard of the incident, I noticed a helicopter hovering fairly close by. Later we heard that one of the suspects had been apprehended there near our neighborhood, and shot while trying to flee from the police.
"Wow, that's pretty near to us," my husband said.
"Can I go play soccer downstairs?" The Scientist asked.
"Maybe not tonight, it's almost dinner time," we responded.
We've been listening to the Spanish journalists all night, and the news from the government is grim. Twelve dead with a few more critically injured, mortality numbers may rise. Anywhere between 50 and 80 hospitalized. Even more traumatized, and a large part of our amazing city on lockdown. Restaurants and businesses closed, the metro shut down, buses stopped. Local hospitals are caring for the victims, but at least two have said they have an adequate blood supply... no current need for donors.
The news hasn't identified the victims here yet, at least not as of the last time we checked... but we already know who they must be. Anyone who lives here would know. The victims were undoubtedly tourists from all over the world... street performers and artists, many of whom will sketch your portrait with incredible skill in moments for a few euro. They were mimes. They were families with children, looking to find out what the hype of Las Ramblas is all about. They may even have been local pickpockets, sifting through the throngs of travelers to pinch a wallet here or there. They were a colorful, beautiful, diverse crowd of humans. Many languages and cultures. None of them, not a single one, deserved this.
One of the world's known terrorist organizations has now claimed responsibility for the attack, and I refuse to write their name in this post because they don't deserve the free publicity. Basically that group inspired a bunch of teenaged, hormonal boys - online - to ruin their own lives and become murderers. The group gets no respect from me; and certainly no space in my blog. One of the actual attackers, not much older than my eldest son, is already dead. Nobody wins.
I have a strong message though... and I mean this with all my heart. It's for all the people we love, and all the people at home who may be feeling sorrow and fear right now.
DON'T BE SCARED. Don't! I'm sitting in Barcelona right now and it's the most amazing city you can imagine. Motorcycles are heading up the street, neighbors are having a dinner party, and the Catalan police (who have a massive presence, all the time) are well on top of the situation. They are an incredible group, and they have their eyes on everything all the time. They arrived on the scene of the incident within seconds. Literally.
They've got this. They're on it!
If you've always wanted to come to Barcelona, DO IT! Book your travel tonight. You will love this incredible town... its food, its culture, its history. The warmth of the people. The beauty of the Catalan countryside!
Don't allow this attack to stop you from following your dreams. Do you love to travel? Then TRAVEL! Don't let these fools stop you from seeing the world, don't live in fear. That's what they want, right? To strike fear into the hearts of innocent people so that everything shuts down? Commerce stops? Travel stops? Everyone sits around petrified, peeing their pants?
I always wondered how I would feel in light of a real terrorist attack near me, and now I am actually living through one and I can tell you. I'm not scared at all. I'm just mad. I'm mad that anyone would even think of hurting these beautiful travelers, local citizens and artists on one of our city's iconic streets. I'm mad that anyone would even consider taking away the sense of peace and beauty that infuses this special place. I'm mad that they were successful this time, even though the Catalan and Spanish police have adeptly shut down hundreds of other plots in the last few years.
But I'm not scared.
Look - it's a crazy time in history. Anything can seemingly happen anywhere, at any time. We've seen that this week already in Charlottesville, and before that in San Bernadino, and before that in Orlando... and the list goes on and on.
Now it's happened here, in Barcelona. That sucks! I hate that it happened, and I'm horrified by the events and incredibly sad for the victims and their families. I'll willingly donate blood tomorrow if they need it. I'll follow the instructions the Catalan police give us, to the letter. But I'm not scared at all. I'm not thinking of leaving, and I feel just as safe here as I would in California. Safer.
Don't let the fear-mongers win.
If you love to travel, and you've got a hankering for sangria and tapas; for beautiful beaches and flamenco; and to see the glorious Sagrada Familia (at last, just a few years from its completion!) DO support this amazing city and come to Barcelona! It's honestly as beautiful tonight as it was this morning, and the strong, kind-hearted people here will be as wonderful tomorrow as they were yesterday.
It feels very important to our family to get this message out there into the world today.
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