The Hidden Village of Aspergers

July 26, 2013

Barcelona. Believe.

Back in May, I went to the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. My brother has been going for years, and although it’s less mainstream than what I’m used to (Reading and Glastonbury), I thought about going myself last year, and after a moment of self-pity on New Year’s Eve, I thought, “Oh, fuck it,” and booked a ticket. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, Blur – who I’ve loved since I was in primary school – were playing. Secondly, up until Belfast and Berlin last year, I hadn’t had a holiday since 2005. Thirdly, and most important, I wanted to see if I could manage in a foreign country, on my own, without my mum or friends to help.

Of course, Barcelona is not on the other side of the world, it is only two hours’ plane journey away, and there were people I knew who were in the city at the same time: friends from home, my auntie and uncle, and my brother (though he was the only one I ended up seeing). But it was still a big leap. Although I can read Spanish, I cannot speak it as well as German. I had to sort out accommodation and flights on my own (my mum and her boyfriend arranged everything in Berlin, and I had the help of two friends when sorting things out for Belfast). I would be staying in a youth hostel, sharing a small room with strange people. I had stayed in hostels before, but generally I’d been with people I knew. I would be managing my own finances and negotiating a festival site and the Metro system, and I would be adjusting my body clock. While bands at British festivals start around midday, the bands at Primavera do not generally start until 4pm, and the headliners don’t come on until the wee small hours. Blur, for instance, were on at 1:30am. My Bloody Valentine, who I didn’t see, were on even later. (As it happens, I ended up pulling an all-nighter on the Friday, as I wanted to see Blur, them being the main reason I was there, and I had to stay on the site as the metro stopped around 2am, but luckily there were bands on until 5am). I would become a nocturnal creature.

I am proud to say that I did it. I spent a week in Barcelona, staying in a youth hostel I’d found online that had got good reviews (it’s the Albareda Youth Hostel, if anyone’s interested, and I would definitely recommend it). I lived mainly on cheese sandwiches from Lidl, pizza and the odd bit of festival food – not super healthy, but I’m not keen on cooking in other people’s kitchens as I don’t know where stuff is. I pre-booked a travel card and managed to get to grips with the metro (being in Berlin helped).┬áIn the evenings, I hung out with my brother and his mates at the festival and got mildly twatted on some gin they’d sneaked in, as well as going for a drink with them before it started. I spent most of the days sleeping and reading, as I was too tired to do much sightseeing (except for Parc Guell, as I hadn’t seen it before, and I nearly got lost in the damn place, but managed to find another entrance after wandering around a residential area for a bit). I was introduced to the joys of the Breeders, Neko Case, the Wedding Present, Neurosis, Evans The Death, The Knife, and the Wu-Tang Clan (and I even managed to get near to the front without having a panic attack), and watched Blur do a 13-centric set. Parc del Forum is by the sea, and listening to Blur doing This Is A Low as the sea crashed on the rocks in the background was, frankly, magical.

The only major panic I had was finding out I’d left my email from Seetickets back at the hostel when I was going to pick up my ticket (though I managed it the next day, and I found out where Parc del Forum was, so it wasn’t a wasted journey) and getting to the airport on the way back, as I’d gotten confused about train times and had to hail a taxi, and I did have some language problems as Spanish does not come naturally to me, and I got into an argument with a rude idiot at Barcelona Airport, but I didn’t have anything like the problems I had at Schonefeld. My body was out of kilter for a week – standing for ages did not help, and it was particularly bad during The Knife’s early morning set on Saturday when I wanted to dance, but everything from the waist down hurt. Still, I did it. I managed in a foreign country on my own. I beat myself up a lot, but for once, I am actually quite proud of myself, because I learned that I can manage. I am not totally helpless. Being able to book accommodation and flights and time everything and manage my finances for a week is a huge step for me. It required massive amounts of planning and research and talking to people who’d been to the city, including Franny Griffiths, the keyboard player from Space and a former resident who knew the city like the back of his hand. It all paid off. I came home slightly less pasty than before and with a bag full of stinking socks and a well-thumbed copy of Tori Amos’ Piece By Piece, which kept me entertained during my down time.

If I can do this, who knows what I can do next? I could go to Berlin, another city I love, on my own (and if I go to Schonefeld Airport, at least I’ll be prepared for dealing with evil airport staff). I could go to a place where I don’t speak the language, or that’s further away from home – I’ve been talking about going to Thailand with one of my mates in a couple of years, when both of us are better off. I appreciate not everyone with Asperger’s can push themselves out of their comfort zones, and it isn’t easy. But I had to do it. I had to know what I am capable of, and I had to prove to myself that I can manage on my own, and I did.

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