Melissa Silver, who played a key role in developing this website, is now living in Barcelona and training to teach English as a foreign language. These are her thoughts after the terror attacks in Barcelona and nearby communities yesterday.
I leave my school at 5pm on the dot every day. The course is intense, and I’m always craving solitude by that time. I walk the 45 minutes home, in the sunshine, across Placa Catalunya, taking a moment to enjoy getting stuck behind the relaxed, slow-moving tourists and locals who don’t need to be anywhere. I’ve loved being uncomfortably surrounded by strangers – it feels so alien to me that I enjoy it.
Yesterday, I didn’t go straight home. I would never have walked through Las Ramblas at this time – it’s not one of those stories – but I’m grateful that I took a moment to relax, or I’d have got caught up in the panic of the most relaxed city I’ve ever visited.
Sitting, having a post-class beer on my school terrace, a tutor comes in and asks if we’ve seen the news “No…?” It’s clearly not good; he’s trembling. People have been hit by a van on La Rambla, five minutes walk from where we sit. He asks us to stay put until we hear more. We are so well-versed in terrorist attacks now – okay, it could have been an accident, but we instantly know it isn’t. We don’t need to try to imagine the scene because it’s like hitting replay on the worst video we’ve ever watched.
My new friends and I take a moment to look at each other. Suddenly the colour on our happy cheeks leaves. We become aware of sirens. Not long after that, helicopters are circling overhead; there’s a manhunt. The panic is near, you can almost touch it, but the street below the terrace is calm. Our safe place remains safe.
Two people have died… six… thirteen. Dozens have been injured – what does “dozens” even mean? Is that anything up to a hundred? There are gunmen holding hostages in a nearby restaurant, is that true? The driver of the van is on the loose, really? There’s another van that’s been found in a nearby town. There’s another attack imminent. You can let the rumours overwhelm you. You can let the chaos make you scared, make you hate, make you panic. I didn’t feel any of those things. I knew I didn’t want to walk home – and the Metros had been shut down – I knew I’d be looking over my shoulder every second, like when it’s dark, and your own breathing and footsteps become your worst enemy as you imagine someone running behind you. But I wouldn’t say I was scared; I was overcome by unbearable sadness.
How dare they? Barcelona is a city that everyone falls in love with instantly. Out of all the cities in the world, I chose here – having never been here – because everyone I knew who’d been here had loved it. That’s what they do, these people, they attack what we love. They attack love.
But here I was, sitting on a terrace drinking beer with my new friends. I was embracing this new life that I’d chosen to create for myself, away from the safe bosom of my Hebridean hometown. I came here knowing that an attack was likely – any big European city is a target, and I accepted that before I left home – but you can’t ever really emotionally prepare yourself for something like this.
Four hours after the attack, still on the terrace, as the sun was thinking of setting, our school's locked doors can now be opened if we wish to leave, and I’m offered a lift home. Yes. Please.
Driving through Barcelona was odd. The city that I’ve found at times overwhelmingly busy had momentarily lost its buzz, but there were still people around. Couples, friends… a noticeable lack of young families, who you so often see even in the wee hours, but things didn’t seem too weird. Aside from the number of policemen – Barcelona’s own, and those summoned to the city from all over Catalonia – life was moving on already, and that was comforting to see.
Today, the people who lost their lives won’t leave my mind for a second, but I’ll do the walk I always do, just a little more vigilantly, and this beautiful city will do exactly the same.