Agua sin gas – the Spanish version of “still water”. The staple beverage of myriad cultures, one that goes with every meal, at lunch or dinner unlike carbonated, sparkling drinks which are believed to corrupt the savour of the meal. Pure and healthy. To be consumed in large quantities if you want a fit body. Colourless, indeed transparent. “Still”, as the English term implies it. Calm, serene, peaceful.
Agua con gas – the Spanish version of “mineral water”. Popular in Europe, the default option in several countries when you order water. Rich in minerals, “impure” as it is processed (i.e. carbonated). In non-sparkling-water cultures, it is thought to be healthier, helping digestion, though this is largely a myth. To the contrary, since it is acidic, it may cause bloating if you have irritable bowel syndrome or reflux. To be consumed in moderation. Colourless, and to a certain extent transparent, though certainly not calm or peaceful. Bubbles rise, erupt, disrupting the serenity of the liquid.
Lund is agua sin gas. Still, silent. Empty, clean streets; respectful drivers. Pure and healthy. Fitness, yoga, massage and all other forms spirituality, uncorrupted by religious dogma. Melancholy, loneliness, isolation. A welfare state that takes care of every denizen. A culture that values consensus, moderation. Uncontaminated by conflict or controversy. Clumsy when contested, or in the face of confrontation. Somewhat tedious, uneventful. Unhappy, uncomfortable if the orderly flow of life is disrupted. In a way, conservative (socially and culturally).
Barcelona is agua con gas. Active and noisy. Crowded, dirty streets; shouting drivers. Multicultural, harbouring not just students coming from different countries and immigrants as in Lund but also hosting tourists, postcolonial presences and diversity. Full of “life”, colourful. Controversy and conflict woven into the texture of everyday life. Cheerful, mixed, patchy. A culture that is more and more stuck in a tug of war between those who value nativism and those who cherish cosmopolitanism. Orderly in disorder. Relaxed. Yet offers none of the guarantees or protection the Nordic welfare system provides.
“Barcelona is like Lund”, he said, while driving in a taxi towards the center of the city. Nothing could be further from truth, “visually” speaking. “Come on”, I replied. Yet the eyes of the five year old saw differently. Maybe because it was his way of saying he likes it.
Later, “there is nobody in the playground”, he said. “Isn’t this good”, I replied. “Do you want crowds?” “Hmm”, he said, smiling and nodding affirmatively.