by Ava Klinger
Seeking a warm refuge from the dark, sunless winter in Saint Petersburg, Russia, I traveled to Barcelona, Spain in the Catalonia region. It was mid-February when I arrived at my friend Alessandro’s cozy home. I had met him a few months back in Italy during the European Permaculture Convergence where I traveled on behalf of my work with Gaia University. We had just recently connected again through the Creating Regenerative Livelihoods course offered by Gaia U. It was his offer to let me stay at his home that made this last minute travel opportunity possible.
For the ten days I spent in the city, one stands out as the most memorable. It was a gorgeous sunny Sunday, and Alessandro invited me to visit the Can Masdeu community in the mountains on the outskirts of the city. He informed me there was a tour of the site every Sunday at noon.
After a short metro ride, I followed his directions up to a hiking trail into the hills. It had been months since I’d walked in a forest, so I stopped several times to appreciate the abundance of life growing around me. It wasn’t long before I spotted my destination. An old monastery-like building perched atop the hill and a series of terraced gardens created a vibrantly green skirt at the base. The colors of other objects stood out too – bright blue barrels, red chairs, yellow bags. I walked a bit further and was able to make out more details – a leafless tree adorned in old CD’s and worn out teddy bears, among other objects. For the last several years I’ve visited permaculture communities and gardens across the US and Europe, and with only a moments glance, I knew this place was unique.
It was still morning, and on a Sunday, so as is typical of Spain, there were only a few people out and about. Each person I passed on my way up to the top smiled at me, a stark contrast to what I had become accustomed to in Russia. When I reached the top, I began searching for my friend. I looked at my watch, knowing that he should be here, he was scheduled to give a presentation on Permaculture in just five minutes. Without a clear idea of what I should do, I sat down, rolled up my sleeves and pant legs and enjoyed soaking up as much sun as I possibly could. For a moment it felt a bit like a dream – I was in a new place, but everything felt familiar to me somehow. Every so often I would open my eyes as I noticed more people gathering close by. At one point there seemed to be a bit of a crowd waiting around. I checked my clock casually, wondering when this tour might begin, it was just past noon. A few of the other people waited close by with beers in hand. I smiled to myself at the ease of life here.
Finally, a lively man popped out of the building and announced in both Spanish and English that the tour would begin – I immediately detected a Scottish accent. We gathered around him, and he began to share in both languages how the community began. The gist of it was that several people decided to live in this abandoned piece of land that was owned by the city and started growing food, collecting rainwater, engaging other members of the local community and offering events. At one point law enforcement intervened, and for two weeks the members of the community stood firmly against them until finally the local government gave up and allowed them to continue their life and work on the site. Since then the community has grown and is now an attraction for people of the arts, travelers, and permaculture enthusiasts.
The tour continued around the site. Our guide showed us the gardens, the outdoor aquaponics tank and garden, the different living facilities, and the dome they were in the process of building. He explained how they protect their food against the wild boars in the mountains and spoke about the history of the site – at some point during this time the English faded away, so I only grasped bits of what he said in Spanish. My favorite part of the tour was when he showed us the fire-pit/party-zone. There was a pink wig on the very top of a large cactus, and I laughed to myself imagining how wild the parties here must get.
When the tour finished we returned to the patio seating area where we began – lunch was on its way. Several new people were arriving. I looked around – there was a drum circle close to the unlit fire pit, two young men playing a game of chess, families chatting together, their children playing close by, dogs chasing each other. I felt the warm rush of a familiar sensation wash over me – it was the same feeling I had being at home. Soon I noticed a line forming around the food. I stood behind Alessandro’s German roommate and her father who was in town visiting. They served us a healthy meal made with food grown on the land. All of the chairs were occupied, so I joined a group of people sitting on the ground in a patch of sun. It was becoming clear that I was surrounded by other misfits and oddballs – many of them from across Europe and other parts of the world – an Irish actress, a British bagpipe player, an Argentinian art student, and dozens more. Every person I spoke with had a uniquely interesting story. And even though I was only there for one day, I felt like I belonged to their tribe at that moment.
The sun eventually moved behind the mountain, and a chill swept over me. I didn’t bring a warmer sweater, and I knew it would only grow colder. Sadly, it was time to leave, but I promised myself that I would cherish the memory of my visit to Can Masdeu – the tastes and smells around me, the mellow atmosphere, and of course the quirky people I connected with during my short visit.