October 26, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Madrid.
The next day was a profoundly surreal amalgam of political dissent and nightmare art.
I run hot. I’m a fleshy furnace, and back in the Frozen North I considered 50 degrees to be t-shirt weather. As per the recommendations made by The Savvy Backpacker, I invested in three long-sleeve button downs because “You can just roll up the sleeves if it gets too hot!”
This doesn’t work. This makes your elbows hotter, and the rest of you no less hot. This was fine in Ireland, where it was always raining and cold, but in Spain the weather is perfect every day all the time forever and it was going to kill me.
I went to a kitschy souvenir shop and bought three t-shirts for 20€. Two of them were generic Barcelona dealies and one was an appropriately red shirt with a bull on it that said ESPAÑA. In the Wes Craven bathrooms of the Hell Museum of Psychosis Art (will cover in coming post) I switched into it and then went wandering through the narrow, winding alleys that comprise the city’s cultural district.
Earlier, at a coffee shop called the Sweetophelia Cafe, I was interrupted in my caffeinated morning blog musings by a troupe of flag-waving communist teens marching down the street with a police escort and shouting. I tried to get a video but my phone was charging and, with how long it takes to boot up, I’m pretty sure it’s running Windows 95. As I meandered through the labyrinth of corner shops and bars that is the Circulo de Arte, I found what must have been a major civic building where every political dissident under the age of 20 had gathered to shout in Catalan.
All the heavy hitters were there. Hammer and sickle flags, antifa in bandannas, dreadlocked white dudes with gauges, news vans, the whole nine yards. A lot of them were wearing flags for capes. No one was pleased. Further back, along the fence, locals 35 years of age or older looked on in notable disquiet.
I approached one of the girls along the fence and asked “Disculpe, que es esto sobre?” which was the closest I could get “The hell is going on here?”. She served me up a withering look and told me that it is about independence from Spain.
My dumb ass says “Okay, thanks!” and continues blithely on my way. In retrospect, I would’ve probably walked away whistling, if I could whistle.
I’m observing the protest when I catch my reflection in window glass and realize:
(note: i made this face on purpose but this is coincidentally the same face that everyone in Dublin made 24/7)
So all this mean mugging is not necessarily because I’m a filthy American tourist, but because I’m doing the equivalent of walking around colonial Lexington 1775 with an “ENGLAND RULZ” shirt. I scrambled into an alley and changed into a less incendiary Barcelona shirt. I could see the la policia around the corner in another window reflection, but I can’t imagine they would stop what they were doing and yell at me for pulling a quick Superman switch as far from the public eye as I could get without buying more tapas.
It was a madhouse, but, because it was not in America, none of the children were maced or beaten. I poked around until I found a trio of 15-year-olds who spoke enough English to give me a synopsis of what they were protesting.
Catalonia wants to secede from Spanish rule. I’m a major proponent of liberty, so if I had a dog in this fight, it would be Catalonia’s. They were going to hold a formal withdrawal but that same day there was some sort of closed-doors meeting at this particular building, and it was announced that tomorrow Catalonia would be involved in the Spanish presidential elections. The whole secession was swept right under the rug.
I thanked them for the information, explaining (unnecessarily) that I’m an American and that we don’t hear much about this, because of our own political circus. I wished them the best and headed out of the demonstration before anyone decided to get punchy.
I’m a simple dude. If you want freedom, I want you to have it. Buena suerte, Barcelona. I’d say it in Catalan but I definitely can’t.