A city

Elena is a junior from Iowa City, IA majoring in nonfiction creative writing and international relations at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the USAC Program in Torino, Italy.


Elena and a friend enjoy the view in Barcelona.

By Elena Bruess

A city is a work of art. With layers upon layers of history and meaning, a city can be unraveled at the seams and exposed. No matter the age, architecture and art will unfold around you as you turn corner after corner—taking in what it has to offer.

Years can be encompassed in a single building and a lifetime can be witnessed in one block. Museums and monuments stand to remember, yet a city is always moving and breathing and reforming to a new mold.

A city is more than its people, its buildings, its writing, its music—it is an aging heartbeat that leaves the streets cracked and the walls painted. A brief lapse of our world wrapped in its own rhythm and rhyme. Forever changing, a city is an unforgettable moment.

Moving through the Catalonia streets of Barcelona, I wondered how a city so vast and impressive could be understood. It wasn’t just the small amount of time I had or the language barrier; it was this particular idea that a city literally sweats art.

Of course, I went to the Sagrada Familia and the Parque Guelle and sat at the beach bathing in the sun, but everyone does this. It is what I am supposed to do—what we tourists are supposed to do. It’s not like I don’t enjoy it. Everything around is beautiful and striking and worth every photo. Yet, Barcelona could mean more.


"Almost painted over, the graffiti will probably be gone soon. And something new will take its place... honestly, I will never see this art again."

I want to be the traveler that opens my eyes and sees what the city offers truly. Whether it is the paella from the market where I ripped the heads of the frightening shrimp or the boy at the hostel with a limp and skateboard or the little restaurant in an alleyway with the good sangria, I wanted to experience more.

At two in the morning, I take a picture of this disappearing lizard-dog on a garage door, with the word Utopia scrawled across its neck. Almost painted over, the graffiti will probably be gone soon. And something new will take its place. It is just a moment within a moment within a city that is always shifting. Honestly, I will never see this art again. Just as I will never have the same shrimp or meet the same boy or drink the same drink.

My mother was in Barcelona 35 years ago. I think of what goes on in a city in that time and what changes and moves and builds and destroys. So, I imagine what my mom saw—what art, what food, what people. If instead of the disappearing lizard-dog, there was a flower or a gun or a blank space. And in another 30 years or so?  Maybe the garage will be cracked and crumpled into dirt and some new art will be impressing travelers.

There is no right way to see a city. There is no perfect day. There is just a city and a traveler and there are moments. A single golden moment. And one weird painted dog. 

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