Continued from Enlivened by the Underground…
(Note: My camera became terminally ill at the beginning of my stay in Barcelona. Thus, my photos of the city and my experiences are uncharacteristically sparse.)
Barcelona. Barcelona. Barcelona. She is ruthless. She is fiery. She is an enchantress that has both charmed me and ravaged me. Her perfumes linger on my skin. Her antics and revelry come back to life in my daydreams… I can’t stop thinking about Barcelona.
The city is a daily circus with Las Ramblas as the center ring. The broad, tree-lined boulevard bustles with unceasing intensity at Plaça de Catalunya and continues on, stretching down toward the sea. It is home to modern-day gypsies that hawk their wares, which include anything from gerbils to Estrella (local beer).
There are angels and demons, jazz musicians and salsa kings, exotic flowers and rodents of all species. Troupes of street acrobats flip and fly over startled tourists and onlookers. Intricately painted statues come to life at the sound of change clinking in their box. White balls whizz through the air and bounce off surfaces in chaotic order, responding like boomerang magnets to the master juggler. One man plays the birdsong daily from his own lips, whistling and chirping and confusing the tourists.
While ambling down Las Ramblas, trying to take in the exciting confusion around you, stop in at the colorful Mercat de la Boqueria, where yet another circus act unfolds. This is the central market, a hive of activity, where the pungent smells of freshly-caught fish and seafood greet you, where choice meat slabs and sausages tantalizingly hang, where rainbow-colored pyramids of ripe fruits and vegetables pile high. I loved dropping by for the fresh fruit smoothies of mango, kiwi, coconut and more.
Perhaps the most stunning act though, the one that got the most talking, was that of the “vanishing wallet.” Barcelona is well-known for its artful pickpocketers. I’ve been to some twenty countries, each with their own “artists of robbery” and I have never been robbed until Barcelona. But here, it all caught up to me. Three of my wallets went unaccounted for and twice money disappeared from my pockets during just two-months of venturing around that mystic city.
The “Pakis,” as both locals and foreigners alike so lovingly refer to them, are the concessionaires and can be found not just at the center ring, on Las Ramblas, but throughout the city. Instead of selling popcorn or cotton-candy though, they constantly call out to the onlooker and passerby suggesting cans of Estrella at one Euro a pop. They are there at all corners of the city, at all hours of the day or night. Many will also quietly whisper offers of hashish and even cocaine.
Further beyond Las Ramblas, past the monument for Chistopher Columbus, you’ll find the harbor and La Rambla de Mar. This seaside area is a hotspot for live musicians. I spent some of my favorite moments in Barcelona, here, moving to the mix of live salsa rhythms and clinking sails that billowed from the nest of yachts, which were highlighted by the setting sun.
On several occasions I indulged in relaxed runs along the harbor and on along the beach under the warm Mediterranean sun. In the late winter/early spring, the sea breeze was chilly and crisp. Friends and I would often gather at the Rebecca Horn sculpture – a tower of staggered, metal cubes – on Barceloneta Beach to huddle on cold, windy days and listen to the ocean waves crash upon the sand or sunbathe on warmer days, thrilled to know that summer was coming. We played sand soccer and sand volleyball, we listened to hippies beat their bongos and strum their guitars and we watched the tourists relax as they were pedaled on bikes, sitting in the red, front-mounted carriages. Asian masseuses kneaded their clients on the sand and a young woman could always be found amusing the children with her long, wobbly tubes of gigantic, floating bubbles.
I’ve already written much, but I feel like I haven’t even begun sharing my experience. And the truth is… I haven’t. I started this post today thinking I needed to finally get “the” post up about my two-months in Barcelona. But, I just can’t tell it all in one post. Two or three probably won’t be sufficient either. So each day… I will write a new chapter, until my Barcelona Chronicles are finished.
Barcelona is truly the Spanish port of eclectic art and Arabic flair. It is a daily circus, an exotic bazaar that never sleeps and never ceases to dazzle. In Barcelona, both the Catalan (regional) and Castellano (national) influences are strong and intriguing. They shape the city. But so too do the thriving, unavoidable sub-cultures that infuse the city with its vibrancy.
I first discovered and connected with Manu Chao in Central America. His songs and his beats capture the various shades of Latin America – its countries, its people and its culture. But, Manu Chao is originally from Barcelona and he certainly captures the beat to his home city in the video below:
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