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Even on holiday – or how I found a political demonstration in Barcelona. January 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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Okay, back from Barcelona today, and a good trip it was too. Much to see and ponder on.

Saw the bullet holes and stopped off in a couple of bars and restaurants (En Gran Café in the Old Town and La Taula close to Putxet FCG station were particularly good). It was actually quite cold, around ten degrees on Saturday and Sunday, but a dry cold quite unlike the damp here. And it was sunny.

untitled-1.jpgSunday was particularly interesting with a long walk around the Old Town, where, purely by accident came across a demonstration in favour of the (Spanish) Peace Process outside the Regional government buildings (across from which appeared to be a large police station). A flurry of Basque and Catalan flags. This was held under the watchful eyes of the Mosses d’Esquadra – the local autonomous police force – (holding helmets and side arms no less, at a van parked along a side street – presumably just in case the fairly sedate crowd turned nasty). Very interesting it was too with a fairly large attendance and they really do these things in style on the continent. From time to time speakers broke into song accompanied by a pianist on a piano on the platform. With almost no command of Catalan or Spanish I can’t really relate any more than the basic gist of the meeting which was much as expected. In the meantime my heart went out to the Militant member standing rather isolated behind a table in a deserted corner of the square.

As interesting in it’s own way was an exhibition in the City History Museum which looked at the history of the Spanish Republic in Barcelona right up to its fall. This, it has to be said was pretty thin on details – the website for the exhibition available here is vastly superior. But the photographs blown up to larger than life size and various memorabilia including Picasso’s and Miro’s from that period were striking. As was the reasonable nature of the reforms introduced by the Republic from the eight hour week, holidays, social housing to mixed education. Enjoyable? No. There was a heartbreaking quality to the photographs of young men and women from the militia’s going to the fronts to fight the Nationalists. Heartbreaking because of their evident idealism, and the way in which those ideals were crushed both by their enemies and the supposed allies. But maybe the ideals they sought to uphold, yeah, even the simple ones such as the eight hour week, won out in the end.

In a way what’s interesting about the city is that it’s a living city even at it’s centre. Old apartment blocks crowd the streets off Las Ramblas giving the place a vital ambience. Large groups of people were dancing the traditional Catalan dance, whose name escapes me (I think it’s the sardana), to the music of a band. And sure, some of it is touristy, but not entirely. Although the banner on the top of some ‘Anarchist’ squatted apartments by Parc Guell had the glib and cheerless slogan “If it’s called tourist season – why can’t we shoot them?”.

Despite that it’s the sort of place worth many visits to really get under the skin of it. Had an interesting conversation with a Catalan on Monday evening in a restaurant and got a sense that in some respects the relationship with Spain was oddly similar in a number of ways to the relationship of this island with it’s neighbour. Obviously the political links are different (although perhaps one could argue that if the GFA flies that may change), but I’m thinking in one sense more of the cultural issues with the domination of language and so forth. I have to think about this a bit more…but the city, and Catalonia in general, is a truly fascinating place.

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1. Wednesday - January 30, 2007

I took a photo not unlike this in Bilbao a couple weekends ago… a demonstration in support of the Basque hunger striker Iñaki de Juana Chaos (and isn’t that a great name for a guerrilla?).

Your comment about it being a living city even in its centre, that’s true for all the cities in the region. It’s such a striking difference from here. I’ve spent a lot of time in Madrid and one thing that never fails to impress me is the sight of little kids running around in the plaza as their parents sit on benches watching them play … at 11pm on a weeknight.

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2. WorldbyStorm - January 30, 2007

It’s great isn’t it? There’s a real sense of community. Of course, in a way it’s easy to develop that in a place where winter temperatures dip into single figures but no lower and less so in Ireland, yet it’s a real pity.

Another small point. Went for dinner last night. There was a party of about thirteen at an adjoining table. They left at about 11ish, but what was remarkable was that almost every glass of wine had some wine left in it. Now, it wasn’t a case of conspicuous consumption because although excellent the menu was inexpensive relatively speaking (for example with a set menu of 3 course plus a decent bottle of wine for under 30 euro a head). So I’m tempted to think it’s a completely different approach to alcohol as well.

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3. Pidge - January 31, 2007

They also have some of the most creative drug dealers I’ve ever come across. On La Ramblas, they come up, offering beer. Actually try to buy the beer and you’ll get weird looks.

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4. Redking - January 31, 2007

You’ve started a thread on bumping into demos on hol!!
By accident, a few years ago in Torino I bumped into a fascist march in the town centre. Unused to the carnival atmosphere ( I kid you not) I at first did not realise it was a fascist event-the marchers were not stepping in any paramillitary fashion and wore neckerchiefs which made them look comical and boyscoutish. I then noticed the banners that read Liga Del Nord and saw a counter demonstator run out in front of them -he sang a brief rendition of Bandierra Rossa and made a single fingered salute at the march and then ran off-the marchers ignored him.
I then inspected a stall on the sidewalk that sold Mussolini boxer shorts and badges! the stall holder was very friendly despite my look of disgust at his wares!
Aftewards I had to pinch myself – very odd and surreal experience.
I recalled the many marches in England at which I had encountered the BNP-the tension and violence of it all-it made me realise how mainstream the far Right are in many european countries compared to the UK.

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5. WorldbyStorm - January 31, 2007

Interesting you should say that. The Guardian had a long piece some years back about just that topic and how Fascist memorabilia was sold openly in Italy in a way which wouldn’t be possible in Germany.

Actually, in Rome a while back I spent quite a while wandering around looking at some of the Fascist architecture on various buildings. I hate to say it, but some of it wasn’t atrocious. Amazingly the friezes remained intact. I have photo’s somewhere which I’ll put up.

Yeah, the BNP certainly have a way with marches.

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