Five years ago, maybe six, my brother sent my daughters and me to one of the little fish spa’s that sprouted like mushrooms in the alleys and narrow streets around his neighborhood, location Bario Gotico, down town Barcelona, enclosed by the popular Picasso-Museum-neighborhood called Borne and the street-artist’s-Ramblas de Catalunia. Who hasn’t been there? In a single day there’s more tourists then cobble stones paving the medieval streets. After African people selling sunglasses to be chastisized by the guardia civil, wealthy European youngsters investing in real estate to open up Airbnb places and less wealthy Europeans opening up funny cafés, Asian people started spreading out from their whole sale-retail-everything-for-1-euro places into more popular signature Catalan streets opening up one massage salon after the other. At some point these massage salons competed in original ways to attract the millions of pedestrians strolling often aimlessly, the oh so trodden old streets where once a long time ago, time had stood still. Sit down in an electric massage chair and dip your toes, feet and lower legs into a water bassin in front of your chair. Black little fish study your legs for a little time before they attack your skin, nibbling on it, making you giggle, supposedly eating away the dead cells of the top layer of your skin. The experience is a happy one. After fifteen or twenty minutes you pay €25 and continue the aimless wandering most probably quickly interrupted by downing a few beers or a caraf of sangria.
My not yet teenage daughters and I liked the little fish spa’s very much. Surprised how it suits the appetite of different generations; not a common thing while walking through hot old streets with a million fellow holiday people.
Today six years later, my daughters find themselves, spending the first few weeks of their summer holidays in The Netherlands before the two of them come hanging out with me for a couple of weeks. Location: a tranquile island in the midst of the Mediterranean where even in July it’s hard to loose oneself in some sort of dis- or at-traction. Nature talks, often very loud, and people disperse themselves in a quest for tranquility, purity and being away from it all.
Late last night I’ve arrived back at the island which I and my youngest daughter call home since half a year. The day after the night before I seek solid grounds and to recapture my little life here. I take to the rocks at one of my favorite parts along the shore, Dahlet Qorrot bay. I leave the few other people that come out here and my car behind to hike for twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. Until I arrive at what I call my private spa. Here the sea created craters like shallow pools, different ones, connected with the open sea but only by little water ways. The water in the shallow pools is almost stagnant but not completely. It’s as clear as glass. Little fish roam. Little crab crawl. The sun shines fiercely. The extremely salty water is hotter then the electrically heated water in the bath tub at home. I carefully get in the natural health spa, cautious not to slip and slide on the the film of soft sea moss and algea that covers parts of the natural pools, making the whole experience even more of an immersion in nature. The shallow pools are not much deeper then 50 or 70 cm. I stretch myself out in the water, arms wide, legs apart, floating as if I find myself on an airbed. The water is so salty. It prevents anything from sinking. I breath slowly, adjusting my ligaments, patiently relaxing more and more. The back of my head sinks further down. Only my neck is still tensed, trying to keep my head aligned with my torso. I gradually let go. Seawater encircles my closed eyes and blocks my ears. It’s eternally silent, soft and static. And then it starts. I feel the first nibbling at my right hand, it surprises me, I unconsciously pull my hand away from what it is touching. But I realize it’s just little fish and I relax again, stretching my arm comfortably, slowly, not to agitate the placid warm water. After a bit more the little fish seem to have regained trust and courage. They start to nibble at my feet, my legs and my ears. The most unique sensation is when they start nibbling at my eyelids and my cheeks. At some point it tickles too much, just next to the opening of my ears. I move to make them stop for a moment. But I relax again and they retake their meal of savoury human skin. I smile and enjoy intensely what’s happening to me.
Thank you overcrowded Bario Gotico for having introduced me to this peculiar intimate experience. Reality beats any sought after dis- or at-traction by miles. One of the smallest islands in the Mediterranean, the tranquile isle of Gozo, which is part of the Maltese archipelago, this place completely beats it if it comes to the experience of reality.