Iván, Old Bathroom Floors, and Catalonia (Spain)

Ivan pries up floorboards laid down in either 1885 or 1950. Either way, we'll both develop brain cancer from the mold and lead combination we breathed for two days. (Jacob Bielanski/2012)

I was recently tearing up the floor of a bathroom in Leipzig, helped by a spaniard named Iván. Iván comes from northern Spain and speaks English the way I speak German–just enough to fool people into thinking you can understand what they say in response.

Ivan pries up floorboards laid down in either 1885 or 1950. Either way, we’ll both develop brain cancer from the mold and lead combination we breathed for two days. (Jacob Bielanski/2012)

Construction banter is funny when you don’t share a language. A lot of pointing, head shaking–in this instance, a drain on the 3rd-floor bathtub broke (or had been broken for a while, we’re not sure) and soaked the floor through to the ceiling below. A floor originally constructed in 1885 must be ripped up. To give you an idea, dirt and rocks are what they used for insulation between the joists. Iván and I pause frequently, sharing a lot of head shaking.

After spending roughly 10 hours together, it was no surprise that he picked up on our soon-to-be travel plans: Tarragona by way of Barcelona. The Catalonia region. Catalonia, Jamie recently told me, was considering secession from the whole of Spain. Iván gave me some nice, English-language recommendations about Barcelona, and recommended we visit northern Spain–the only place you can see green in the country. But what about this Catalonia-secession thing, Iván?

He pauses, laughs, searches for the English words. “I’s like when kid wants to move out, but he still wants mom to cook meals, wash and fold ‘is laundry, and give him money to go out.”

As it turns out, Catalonia has regularly had this discussion for at least the last 100 years. If not the last 400.

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