Katlyn writes about history, travel, and culture… with some snark. www.KatlynRoberts.com.

Past Is Prologue

What a princess, a knight, and an evil dragon can teach us about Covid-19

Photo: Coneyl Jay/Getty Images

We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.

— Joseph Campbell

I’ve lived in Catalonia, a semi-autonomous region of Spain, for the last three years. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I’d be selling you on living here in my best “travel blogger” tone — and I’d begin by telling you about the festivals. Everyone gets the day off work and gathers in the street. Civilians set off fireworks with no regard for fingers or eyeballs. Roaming drum lines and paper-mache giants and dragons spitting actual fire will lead you to where the party’s at. …


This. Changes. Everything.

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Mitri the Scribe looking fresh as ever.

Mitri the Scribe was once the highest-paid servant of Pharaoh Unas in the 24th century BC. He was the guy you went to if you wanted a temple built, or a letter written, or if you needed a funny idea for a personalized license plate. Now he sits in the middle of a room at the Cairo Museum, unmoving, unblinking…

…but very much alive.

Really, this is a story about a tour guide. I promise I’m going to get back to Mitri, our Lord and Savior whom I met in Egypt, but first I want one of my favorite scribes of all time to illustrate a point I want to make about the delicate relationship between a tour guide and their tourists. …


Check in with your audience and avoid shouting into the void

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Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

According to a study by Microsoft, humans now have an attention span of eight seconds. Eight seconds! Don’t ask me for details on the study, I only skimmed it. And please don’t click away to that study link, I only included it so you’d believe me.

Anyway, if you’ve made it to this second paragraph, congrats! You’re a rare breed. Though you’ll notice that I’ve increased my odds by appealing to writers in my title. Writers tend to be readers by nature and practice. Reading articles from start to finish is like our daily push-up routine. …


Processing 2020 in a cemetery so you don’t have to.

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The Kiss of Death by Jaume Barba (probably). Photo by Ferran Pestaña on Flickr.

A few weeks after the presidential election was called back in my home country, the United States of Giving-Me-An-Ulcer, I went out to Barcelona’s Poblenou Cemetery looking for a famous statue. It’s called El Petó de la Mort in Catalan, El Beso de la Muerte in Spanish, and The Kiss of Death in English.

I’m somewhat of a cemetery connoisseur and a massive history buff, so this sort of excursion would normally fill me with deferential, if not downright giddy, warmth. Napoleon razed this cemetery to the ground in 1775, for France’s sake. And my country’s been run, for the last four years, by a coked-up Napoleon wanna-be.


The history behind America’s billion-dollar wage theft problem and how to fight it.

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A Black miner in the northern Sierra foothills in 1852. California State Library

Hardly any of the bus drivers at the tour companies I worked for in the early 2010’s lived on the San Francisco side of the Bay. Most of them were Black, Latinx-American, or Chinese-American and they drove in from Oakland or as far away as Vallejo… They’d leave the house before the sun came up to beat the bridge traffic. If they made it to the bus yards in the Dogpatch with any time to spare, they’d catch some Z’s in their car. …


Why time flies when society comes undone.

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Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

This pandemic is shaking us to our foundations. It’s literally forcing us to reconsider both time and space.

  • We’re struggling to block out our time like we used to. We’re unsure if we’re spending it correctly. We can’t decide if it’s moving too fast or too slow. Wasn’t it just March? We’ve been inside forever.
  • The space between us is wider and yet we’re in constant contact with each other over Zoom, social media, etc. We’re trying to be there for each other, to stick together, but not physically.

If you’re feeling rattled right now, it makes total sense. These two concepts are key to our fundamental understanding of our world and yet we’ve taken them completely for granted. …


A traveler’s perspective on how the U.S. can find itself again.

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Photo by Michael Ramey on Unsplash

I’m going to start with an analogy. I’m very proud of this analogy.

I’m 5'2. And I’m talking feet here because I’m an American and, even though I live in Europe now, I still can’t convert inches to centimeters. 5'2 is pretty short, if that helps my non-U.S. friends. Salma Hayek is 5'2. Feel free to imagine I look exactly like Salma Hayek.

Now, because I’m very short, I don’t have a great sense of exactly how much taller people are than me. They’re just… taller in general. It’s not until I see myself in a mirror with them or in a photo that the height difference becomes a thing. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m still shocked and offended every time. …


A faulty tower inevitably falls down.

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

*Note — I started writing this article a few weeks ago, before things got really scary in Italy, before all of Catalonia shut down, and before the U.S. went into a state of National Emergency. I’ll catch up to today at the end of the article.

It’s 2 AM in Barcelona, Catalonia and I’m keeping vigil next to my sleeping grandmother in the hospital. We’re in the semi-critical ward with our own room tonight because she’s had a stroke. My dad found her standing in the pantry the other day, moving objects around for seemingly no reason. When he asked what she was doing, she couldn’t answer him. …


A mysterious museum in the heart of Barcelona is like no other museum you’ve ever seen.

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Photo via Barcelona Bus Turístic

The Frederic Marés Museum is one of Barcelona’s best-kept secrets. It contains within it a juxtaposition as paradoxical as life and death — ecstatic creation and utter destruction. It’s almost too conceptually massive to write about but I’m going to give it a try because …fuck it.

An eccentric artist’s lifelong compulsion to collect, create, and preserve has filled this medieval building in Barcelona’s already-mysterious Gothic district with room after room after room of trinkets and baubles and rare, vintage oddities, the likes of which have visitors positively drooling from an overwhelm of awe and wonder. …


The story of an Americana darling and his living shadow.

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Mark Twain portrait via the UC Berkeley Library. Emperor Norton portrait via emperornorton.net

I’m mad at Mark Twain right now.

If you follow along with my writing (you can do so here), you know I’m a massive Twain fan. His stories combine history, travel, and humor, which is totally my vibe. But Twain’s a problematic hero to have. I mean, the man once said that he wanted to dig Jane Austen up and “beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”.

What the hell? You know, you can be a real asshole sometimes, Clemens.

Twain’s other famous beef pisses me off even more, though. Twain hated Emperor Norton.

Unless you’ve lived in San Francisco, you probably weren’t aware the United States was once ruled by an Emperor. (No, I’m not talking about Trump, but I won’t be surprised at all when he barricades himself inside the oval office the minute he’s voted out.) …

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