Even on holiday – or how I found a political demonstration in Barcelona. January 30, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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.
Sunday 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.