The Best Year of My Life

by Claude Samton

I was twenty- five years old and had just spent six months looking at the great architecture of France and Italy. Now I planned to go to Barcelona for three days to see the work of Antonio Gaudi, one of my favorite architects.

My plane landed late at night and I found a pensione in the middle of the old city near the Ramblas. I woke early the next morning, had a café con leche and a wonderful crusty roll in the pensione dining room. I made my way to the American Express office on the Paseo de Gracia to pick up my mail. It had been twenty years since the Spanish Civil War but there were still paraplegic veterans begging in the streets. The aroma of olive oil was pervasive and Franco’s Guardia Civil soldiers were stationed at every corner carrying machine guns. The American Express office was small but had a bench where I could open my mail. As I was reading the mail, I was aware of an attractive black haired smartly dressed young woman standing nearby. She came over holding a cigarette and asked me for a light. My Spanish was mediocre but she had worked in London so we spoke English. Her name was Rose, a Catalan native. After fifteen minutes of conversation, she invited me home for lunch. We entered one of the beautiful old apartment buildings in the neighborhood. As she opened the apartment door, I noticed a large carved wood table covered with food and approximately twenty or so people seated around it. They were her relatives. In a loud commanding voice, Rose introduced me as her American boyfriend. We had a sumptuous meal of tapas, fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, and great quantities of wine. After several hours of eating and lively conversation in Catalan which I didn’t understand, I excused myself. I had an appointment with a cousin of my father’s who lived in town. I took Rose’s information and promised to call her.

Jaime, my father’s cousin, introduced me to a local architect who mentioned that he was looking for help in designing an apartment building. I said I would think about it and call him later. During the afternoon, I visited several of Gaudi’s buildings. As I walked through the outskirts of Barcelona, I noticed a relatively modern small apartment building with a for rent sign at the entrance. ‘What the hell,’ I thought, I’ll take a look. The elderly concierge walked upstairs with me. On the second floor, I saw a large photo of an interesting looking man with a beard tacked to the door. I knocked and Thad, an American architect came out to greet me. He invited me inside to meet his wife, an American painter. We immediately hit it off. They said a two-bedroom apartment was available upstairs for thirty dollars a month. Was this real life or some fantasy I had been dreaming?

In one day I had a job, an apartment, a girlfriend, new friends, and after having planned to visit for three days, ended up staying in Barcelona for a year.

It turned out to be the best year of my life.


Claude Samton is an architect and visual artist who has taken several years of writing classes at the IRP and produced seven illustrated books published through Amazon. He is currently finishing his Illustrated Life Stories, a memoir.