Europe '96: Walking in Barcelona

<<< Prev    Index to Joe Mabel's travel writing    Next >>>   

If this is getting too much like watching my home movies you can fast forward and I'll never know.

A lot of just hanging out. Friday May 10 I happened to hit up with the start of an auto rally, Rallye Volla Catalunya, which begins in the elegant baroque square of Plaça Jaume I. Quite a contrast to its usual state. Mostly Italian sports cars, a few classic Porsches and Brit sports cars, spots of green among a sea of red. Only 2 days after the Futurist exhibition opened! I'm sure they would be thrilled with the transformation of the plaza.

Saturday was rainy. I went to the textile museum, mildly interesting to me, probably moreso to someone more into costuming. That evening I hit up with the go players again. One couple had a housewarming for their new apartment, so of course I went. Fun, but not much to write about.

So about this point I think I'm into a routine and I figure Sunday morning I'll take the Metro down to the old city & do some sketching. When I emerge from my hostal, I see that Gran de Gràcia, no small street, is closed to traffic for a bicycle rally. Cooool, I can walk along the route of the bike rally, towards the city, maybe take the next Metro at Diagonal.

At Diagonal, I hear a marching band playing Sousa, decide to head toward that, turns out to be a parade of Valencianos heading up Rambla de Catalunya. Some nice costumes, not much of a parade. But what's this? Coming the other way is a parade of those giant puppet things, the kind where you get inside them and walk, some of them a good 8 meters high. Tuns out that pretty much each Barcelona neighborhood has a club of Geganters, some of them with a little Catalan musical group as well, and they do this sort of thing pretty much every week, sometimes in Barcelona, sometimes in another Catalan town. These were the traditional type of giants, too, with the stepladder rigging, not the backpack rigging. Heavier, but when you stop still, you stoop a little and there's no weight at all. Also, it's very easy to switch from one person to another, just by ducking out from under the skirts. So I walk along with them, do some sketches, end up chatting with the group from around Sagrada Familia who end up giving me a pin. And when this all hits Gran Vía, there's a larger Catalan band playing.

I walk 3 blocks to the Cafe Zurich, a veritable institution next to the Plaça de Catalunya, have a carajillo, walk down to the Plaça Reial and sketch some young women from the (British) University of Winchester who are, in turn, sketching the plaza itself.

I keep on walking, find an ex-cinema which is now an okupa (squat) and has a bulletin board outside with some things I will certainly want to follow up, like where the anarchist bookstores are. I go sit for a while out of the (blazing) sun at Santa Maria del Mar, a very restrained Gothic church near the harbor, supposedly the one Barcelonans think of as their own, much more so than the somewhat bombastic but dark cathedral or the never-to-be-completed Sagrada Familia. Then I head down to the harbor where there's a big multi-culti festival sponsored by SOS Racismo (an outgrowth of France's SOS Racisme). Lots of cool booths, everyone from the Moslem cultural organizations to the pro-Castro student groups; most notably, lots of music.

Of the music, the most remarkable was a baker's dozen of Romanian musicians playing in various combinations. [2021 note: I was to discover years later in Romania that I had basically seen the Taraf de Haidouks / Taraful Haiducilor 🔗 from the village of Clejani, the most notable troupe of Romany ("Gypsy") musicians in Romania.] They ranged in age from mid-thirties to probably mid-seventies. Some were, I'm afraid, firmly in the realm of "negative stage presence," but others, especially the singers and violinists, were real performers. Most notably, one roughly 75-year-old violinist [2021 note: that was Nicolae Neacşu 🔗] seemed to have as many tricks as Jimi Hendrix, including some really weird stuff with resining up a single strand of bowstring and using it to get some very eerie sounds out of his violin. Also stuff with 2 people holding a bow still while another plays by moving the violin. At one point, someone turned over a timbalum (sort of a hammered dulcimer of piano-like dimensions) and used it as a straight atonal percussion instrument. The music was wild, shifting from melody to discord and back, solos sometimes heading them straight into a different song. On the whole, absolutely maniacal musicians, 2 hours of sheer genius. I pity the marimba band who had to follow them. I didn't stay to hear.

<<< Prev    Index to Joe Mabel's travel writing    Next >>>   

All materials copyright © 1996, 2021 Joseph L. Mabel
All rights reserved.

"Copyleft": With appropriate notification and appropriate credit, non-commercial reproduction is welcome: contact me if you have any desire to reproduce these materials in whole or in part.

Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 1 March 2021

My e-mail address is Normally, I check this at least every 48 hours, more often during the working week.