September 22, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:58:10+01:00November 26th, 2013|"American Girl"|
If you're going to run, why not head for Barcelona and the Sagrada Família fairy tale?

here’s nothing wrong with running away from things. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to since I arrived in Barcelona.

The man sitting next to me on the plane from New York asked me what I wanted to see when I arrived, what I was most excited about. He was a “list” person, already busy writing up a must-see list for Dublin, where I was connecting. I felt a bit embarrassed. I planned my trip two months ago; I bought a guidebook and map. I knew the general layout of the city and the location of my accommodations. Beyond that, well, I was vague. See some Gaudí buildings, the Picasso and Miro museums perhaps.

I was a stranger to myself at that moment, which was odd because I’m a planner. I usually know exactly what I want to see and do. Why was this time so different? Why couldn’t I answer the man on the plane? I pulled out my guidebook and thumbed through it anxiously.

Only days into my trip, while walking around the quiet galleries in the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya, did it all become clear to me. I had no overreaching day-by-day plan because I wasn’t traveling to Barcelona, per se. I was traveling away from the United States. The real question was whether I could admit that.

Running away from “reality” — whatever the reality might be — is usually frowned upon in the United States. If you run, you’re suspect.

Psychological axioms intersect with catchy phrases. ”Wherever you go, there you are…” and “The only thing you’re running from is yourself.” Never mind the widespread cop show idea that anyone on the run is a fugitive from justice (“a runner,” “on the lam,” “bolted” — and the list goes on). Recently, a friend of mine who runs five miles every morning got the underhanded comment, “I wonder what she’s running from?” If road running and denial are somehow connected, the number of marathons suggests the world has a problem on its hands.

But I have a different idea. Namely the idea that running away is good for you — and why not? The world is a big place and living life in one place can be dull, boring or simply overwhelming.

This is the time of year in the U.S. when the commercial side of the holiday season goes into high gear. Thanksgiving is rolled into Christmas that then becomes New Year’s. It all starts now.

It’s an onslaught of lights and sounds and events you’re compelled to enjoy, not to mention the presents you must buy. It’s an imposition. It doesn’t matter if you’ve given up religion and its holidays, the manufactured ritual will follow you. Shopping at the local drug store for shampoo pushes you headlong into a world of piped carols and checkout clerks in Santa hats. Black Friday follows Thanksgiving as merchants cash in on crowds storming their doors in search of sales and discounts.

The forced enthusiasm of goodwill to mankind (and goodwill to credit cards) can be too much. But there’s no getting away unless you… get away. Run, if you will.

In that sense, my days in Spain have been wonderful. They’ve given me the quiet anonymity I craved. I’m surrounded by people speaking a language I don’t know. I listen to the lively rhythms of conversational inflections over small plates of calamari and mushroom. I relish walking down unknown streets, getting lost, and struggling to make myself understood. I am no one here, which is what running away gives you — an escape.

I highly recommend it, and if you do decide to go, to run or to bolt, your secret is safe with me.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.