J R Duren is a copywriter, published author, award-winning journalist and the creator of As the Bro Flies. With his wife Heather and their dog Charlie he has lived in Barcelona since August 2013.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
Lady Lake, Florida, and originally from San Diego, California.
And what did you do there, then?
Before my wife and I moved to Europe, I was a features reporter at a daily newspaper.
How did you end up in Barcelona?
For a long time my dream has been to open a faith-based community arts center in Europe. We spent seven months working at an arts center in southern Germany. For many reasons, and also because of my wife’s love for the city, we decided to move to Barcelona.
Have you lived abroad before?
I’ve been to several different countries for as short as one week to as long as six weeks, but never as a long-term thing.
So what’s so good about Barcelona?
Barcelona’s artistic heritage is fantastic. The Catalán legends – Miró, Gaudí and Dalí- were so bold and unafraid to break away from the mainstream. In many ways, their artistic expressions are the images of the regional spirit here: bold and unafraid to break away from the mainstream. The non-artsy side of BCN is great too: delicious food, and a combination toursity and non-touristy neighborhoods. We love our neighbors, too.
And what don’t you like?
The Spanish red tape, which is a knock on almost every country I suppose. Applying for residence permits is tough if you don’t have a work contract or aren’t attending school. Many appointments, lots of paperwork and frustration define the process. It’s like I said to a friend the other day: “To live in Spain is to wait.”
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
I feel like an in-betweener. In our apartment building we don’t feel like outsiders. Our neighbors are friendly and warm. When we go to the city center, we feel like outsiders because shop owners see our Anglo appearance and usually assume we’re tourists (I don’t blame then).
How do you support yourself?
Right now, I’m juggling three jobs: one as a copywriter/social media czar/tour guide driver for a local company in Barcelona, and two other copywriting/social media jobs for American companies. My wife and I also did some non-profit fundraising for our arts center project.
Any advice for wannabe Barceloneses?
Yes. If you are going to be here for at least six months, enroll in EOI, the official language school in the city. You’ll be connected to other foreigners, to Spaniards and Cataláns, and you’ll be able to offer the people of the city something very valuable: the Spanish language. Thousands of foreigners come here and disregard the language. Don’t be one of them.
Also, study up on Catalán/Spanish history. This a politically and culturally dynamic region. Reading Giles Tremlett’s “Ghosts of Spain” and John Hooper’s “The New Spaniards”, which will help you understand Spain and Catalonia’s place in Spain. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a crack at Robert Hughes’ “Barcelona”.
Is the move permanent?
Yes. We’re hoping to stay here for at least 20 years.
Finally, tell us about something typically Barcelona
Strong neighborhood identities. Barcelona is divided into districts, and each district’s local government works with neighborhoods to organize amazing events and festivals. Concerts, fireworks, raffles, and music; nearly every weekend you can find a neighborhood-specific event. My favorite neighborhoods are my own, El Carmel; Gracia, Sant Andreu and Poble Sec.
Some images courtesy Moyan Brenn