Homage to Catalonia
Gaudí should have served as a warning. He was left for dead as an unidentified tramp, due to his clothing. And yet a quick walk around Barcelona, particularly the Barrio Gotico and Barceloneta will take you back to grunge not seen this side of the 1990s. No preppy, jumper over shoulder, slicked back hair Madrileños here. All about the scruffy jeans, beaten up trainers, messed up hair, ‘Catalan-glasses-wearing librarian-meets-homeless’ look here.
A veritable Bonfire of the Vanities, where the lingering smoke is the waft of hash synonymous with many of the inhabitants of this part of town. If further proof were needed of the “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Madrid anymore” sensation, a brief wander around the city will cement this and lead you to suspect that your Spanish teacher forgot to tell you something. Signage almost exclusively in Catalan, with its proliferation of ‘u’s and ‘x’s leading to baffled tourists who seem as if watching a tennis match as they look back and forth between their phrase book and signs uncomprehendingly. The prevalence of Catalan could confuse even the most enlightened tourist with its use of ‘merci’, ‘sucre’ and parlar’ instead of ‘gracias’, ‘azucar’ and ‘hablar’ respectively. Menus are in so many languages here that they resemble dictionaries.
Catalonia is the original lone star state with its national flag of independence bearing that very symbol. Barcelona considers itself an oasis in the desert of corruption and underworked Spain. Ask an inhabitant of Barcelona where they would like to live if not in Barcelona and they will appear astonished by the question before saying, as if explaining that the world is round rather than flat, that they live in the best place on the planet. It is hard to argue. Beaches with almost year round sunshine and mountains to enjoy skiing in the winter. A beautiful city architecturally, a rival for Paris and even better, a ‘Paul’ to provide the croissant minus the Parisien waiter ‘service’. Barcelona is a cut above. They outlawed bullfighting, underlining their tendency to go against the rest of typical Spanish customs and to suggest that they have evolved beyond such sports. And yet, they are not so proud as not to adopt more appealing customs, even from the much-maligned Andalucía, such as tapas, naturally translating the tapas into their own Catalan version. They are much more closed and, in their words, much less superficial than other parts of Spain whom they see as more Italian, not least in their attitude to work, particularly when they speak of Andalucía which they condemn as the land of the paro (unemployment benefit) due to the phenomena of Andalucíans working the minimum 90 days a year to secure the benefit before ‘retiring’ for the rest of the year.
The only blot in the minds of the Barcelonians, on their otherwise untarnished record, is that of the pickpockets. They have solved this by putting the equivalent of the armed guard on the corner of every street. Whilst this has undoubtedly done much at least to help the PR image, if not the actual incidence of pick pocketing, it can also mean you find yourself humming the Law and Order theme tune on the way to work. With five police forces in operation, Fawlty towers style farce is never far from one’s mind…although in the proud Catalan version of Fawlty Towers, Manuel isn’t from Barcelona he’s from Mexico!