“I’ve been all over Spain.” Said the boy as we leaned our backs against a towering pillar; both celestial and gangrenous in the gold light. “And this is the most beautiful sight I’ve seen.” Thankfully, I knew that he wasn’t embarking on some cringe-worthy holiday conquest by referring to me.
We were stood, in a crowd of hundreds on the steps of the Palau Nacional, watching the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.
After an illuminating night-before ‘sampling authentic Spanish culture and beverages’ (dancing to Katy Perry and enjoying our free shots at the tourist-packed BLVD, La Ramblas), Jasmine and I had made the laborious trek up to the top of Park Guell to admire the cover photo-worthy views over the city of Barcelona. It was now approaching eleven pm and we had to get up at six to catch the next morning to catch a flight. Jasmine was back at the youth hostel (the excellently located Center Ramblas) fast asleep in a posture of deference to the clunky old fan we were both evangelically grateful for.
Far from a city girl or travelling veteran, the thought of braving the bowels of the underground—let alone a foreign one— solo filled me with an uncomfortable dread. But I’d seen The Magic Fountain on postcards and it looked well worth the fifteen minutes of courage it would take to make the journey.
It was very fake. A flagrant celebration of artificiality. I watched as huge jets of water were propelled into the air, lit up in a range of lurid colours that would almost certainly be disqualified from the Smartie packet. Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ pumped out of speakers followed by Taylor Swift and One Direction.
And the cascade of manufactured human histrionics did not end there. I had never seen so many people turn their backs on a spectacle: ‘Look at me honey!’ parents chirruped to their children. ‘Zoom in on our faces’ couples ordered third-wheels. ‘Cheeeeese!!’ I may not have understood every language I heard but the meaning was as striking as the camera flashes: The Magic Fountain of Montjuic was made to pose in front of, made for profile pictures and ‘Boots’ canvas prints. For showing off.
As the putrescent torrents multiplied and, from my position against the pillar, the water feature began to resemble a colossal, e-numbered wedding cake, I turned to the young man with whom I had just taken a selfie.
I smiled: ‘It’s incredible.’
I loved the colours in the water, the music. I loved seeing so many people make complete idiots out of themselves for the camera. Not many things—let’s forget those free shots in BLVD—can make grown men and women dance like irrepressible zebras trying to shake off a lion (the cost of their hotel? The imminent end of the summer holidays?). Not many things can make a five-year old boy sit still for an hour, entranced. Or cause complete strangers to turn to each other and beam.
But these things happened at The Magic Fountain of Montjuic: that’s why I took so many pictures of it. The crowd, the young man and I were awestruck. By colour. By each other. By the funny things humans can do with music and light and life.
Without saying anything I agreed with my newfound friend; the fountain was the most beautiful sight I’d seen in Spain.
I knew this because of how much I wanted to close my eyes.