Every one of us has had the opportunity to take a risk to do something exciting. But very few of us have taken that opportunity and exposed themselves to a very public, gruesome death. I took the second path many years ago in Barcelona, Spain. This is a true story.
Let me begin at the beginning. My afternoon of terror took place at the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona. Work on it started in 1882, and is expected to be completed in 2026! Famed Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí was brought on to design the massive cathedral. Gaudí was known for his flamboyant style and the use of colored glass for windows and broken pieces of ceramic as ornamentation. At the time of my escapade, the central tower, which resembles a gigantic loofah sponge, measured almost three hundred feet in height.
Some friends and I were travelling through Spain, quite enjoying ourselves as only hubris-filled college students can do. The Sagrada Familia was first on our Barcelona visitation list. As we sauntered down the Avenida Mallorca, it came into view. We decided, however, to stop for lunch at a little café. This decision would later fuel the fire of my idiocy.
The inside of the place was cool and dark. We sat down and ordered fuet (a Catalonian type of chorizo), manchego cheese, and crusty fresh bread. The owner recommended a chilled bottle of Sacromonte white wine. Two hours later, we were still eating and drinking. And drinking. I suddenly realized that we still hadn’t toured the Sagrada Familia. It was now late afternoon, and their gates closed in about an hour. We paid our tab, and unsteadily lurched our way down the street.
The interior of the basilica is magnificent. An incredibly high vaulted ceiling with showers of colored light from the late afternoon sun streaming through the huge windows of colored glass. My friends followed the tour guide toward the sanctuary. I had other ideas.
I was intrigued by the towering spires. Each one incredibly detailed with sculpted minutia. The potent mix of fuet, cheese, bread, and wine started working its magic on the very small portion of my brain controlling common sense. I wanted to find the stairwell that would take me to the top of the tallest spire. How would I find it? The very large sign in an open doorway told me that I had found my stairway to heaven.
¡PELIGRO! NO ENTRAR / Danger! Do Not Enter
There was no security guard at the door, so how dangerous could it be? I started my climb. The circular staircase inside the tower stretched upward for almost 300 feet. After the first 100 feet, my legs started to feel like two pieces of al dente linguini…a feeling I hadn’t experienced since the time I was foolish enough to climb the stairs to the top of the Washington Monument.
After what seemed like days of climbing, the stairway came to an end in front of a small closed door. This one also sported the same silly sign…
¡PELIGRO! NO ENTRAR
I slowly opened the door. I could see all of Barcelona. Cruise ships and freighters moored in the harbor. The mountains surrounding the city. Mesmerized by the view, I stepped out on what I thought was a circular platform approximately four feet in diameter. As the door closed behind me, I soon realized that I was now standing on the head of a twenty-foot tall statue of St. Joseph. Terror began to sweep away my fuet and wine induced bravado. What if I slip off of St. Joseph?
A crowd was quickly forming in the plaza at the base of the spire. I could hear screaming and shouting. The burgeoning throng thought that I was going to jump! Wrong! I started clutching wildly for the doorknob behind me, fearing that any sudden move may cause me to fall. I could see my friends down there. They were waving, trying to convince people that I wasn’t suicidal, just drunk and stupid.
The wind had picked up, adding to my balance dilemma. I saw the flashing blue and red lights before I heard the sirens. The police were racing toward the basilica. I needed to escape before I was arrested and cast into a Barcelona jail. I couldn’t turn around out of fear of falling. I suddenly remembered that I was extremely acrophobic. Pressing the weight of my back against the door, I reached behind me to find the doorknob. After slowly twisting the knob, praying that the door wasn’t locked, it fell open, causing me to tumble backwards onto the stairwell landing. Getting to my feet, I realized that I only had seconds to get out of the stairwell before the police entered the basilica.
Gravity helped me to accelerate down the stairs. I got to the ground level just as the police came into view, running toward me. I had to do something, and quickly. If I ran, they would surely get me. I decided to try an outlandish lie. Summoning my “big boy voice,” I pointed up the stairwell and shouted, “El esta arriba. Él va a saltar en cualquier segundo!” “He’s up there. He’s going to jump any second.” They took the bait. The policemen charged up the stairwell as I began to slowly move toward the exit. Once out in the plaza, I found my friends. They wanted to know if I had lost my mind. I told them I was just looking for a great view of the city as we decided to return to the café for more wine, cheese, crusty bread, and fuet.