Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

It’s been a pretty busy

March 16th, 2002 · No Comments

It’s been a pretty busy three days, so I suppose I’ll run through it chronologically. If you’re here for politics content & couldn’t care less about my barhopping, skip to the 2nd section below. I’m probably going to use an expanded version of that account of the Barcelona protests as my LFB column next week.

Thursday afternoon, after strolling around a bit, I hopped on the Metro (like most, significantly nicer than the NY subway) up to the Parc Güell, brainchild of lunatic architect Antonio Gaudí. I’d seen it before, but it’s too gorgeous to pass up if I’m in town. I’ve always enjoyed surrealist art, and surrealist architecture, even more so; strolling around the park is a bit like stepping into a Dali painting. Which, coming from the utilitarian concrete grid of midtown New York, festooned with blinking billboards, is refreshing.

Around 17h (aka 5pm), I hopped a cab back to the hotel for coffee with Mariona Llatjos, a friend of my father’s who works for a Barcelona medical journal. After a nice chat, we walked down to the Palau de la Virreina, where the Institut de Cultura de Barcelona was sponsoring an exhibition called Parc Huma– or rather, for you anglophones, "Human Park: An Exibition of Global Creatures." Lots of interesting stuff there, including the extended choose-your-own-adventure style multi-path comic strip on the right. One of the things I like about Barcelona is that museums, galleries, opera houses, and the like, are all integrated into the neighborhoods, right alongside all the restaurants and clubs and aparments. Contrast, say, New York, with it’s "museum mile" in midtown, the village downtown, and the financial district still further downtown. Jane Jacobs has written about this at some length, and concluded that the most vibrant cities are those in which zoning ordnances don’t create an artificial segregation of our lives, such that we live in one part of town, work in another, and play in yet another. (Whose bright idea was that little legal innovation, anyway?) Barcelona is an excellent case in point; I’m seriously considering trying to live here for at least a few months if I ever have the sort of job that allows me to telecommute from afar. Unfortunately, my Spanish (let alone my Catalan!) isn’t really good enough to get a job writing in Spain, and I don’t have any other marketable skills. Hell, calling even that one "marketable" is probably something of a stretch…

After leaving Mariona, I stopped back at the hotel for a quick shower & email check, stopped at the Spanish equivalent of a Subway/Blimpies (except you can get a foot long potato tortilla), and then headed over to the Raval section of town. On the advice of TimeOut: Barcelona, I found my way to a cute little place called Benidorm. On the way, I passed the odd spectacle of about 15 middle-aged and older folks in an otherwise deserted alley having a big old hootenany, dancing and clapping to old-school spanish music on guitar and (yes, really) accordion. They were having a blast. I stood there, feeling a bit like a spy at the teddy-bears’ picnic for a few minutes, before moving on. At the bar, chilled in the back nursing a Sapphire & tonic (what else?) for a while, when I noticed English being spoken nearby. That made a good excuse to strike up a conversation with Craig, an ex-New Yorker living in Barcelona doing "electronic music" — closer (he said) to Stockhausen than, say, IDM, but bearing some influence of the latter. He was there with a friend from Seattle who had, a few years prior, worked at the Angelika Film Center. Small world indeed.

When the bar closed up a bit after two, I took Craig’s advice and passed up the more mainstream Paloma ("pretty people, cheezy music" as he sumarized it) for Moog, a choice I don’t regret. Excellent spacey/funky music in a cozy space filled with friendly people. I got there around 2:30, and found only a few people on the floor. "Oh well," thought I, "It’s Thursday, guess it’s a bit dead." Hah. It started filling up about 15 minutes later, and was packed by half past 3. Now, despite my mild mannered demeanor, I do have a tendency to go — what’s the technical term? ah yes, "apeshit" — on the appropriate kind of dancefloor. But I was in rare form Thursday. At one point, I was even that guy swirling spastic in a circle of people clapping to the beat. A jovial, equally frenetic guy passed me a… something (chivas maybe?) when I was done, exclaiming "Que refresca!" I finally made my way home around 5:30, exhausted but satisfied.

Front stairs at Parc Güell

Detail of "The Man Without One Way" by Lars Arrenius

(from Parc Huma)

After checking out of the hotel at midday Friday, and strolling around by the University a bit, I headed over to Las Ramblas to see the anti-EU/anti-globo "manifestacion." It was, at least at first, much more sedate than my closest point of reference, the Unity 2000 protests at the Republican National Convention. No chanting and slogans and marching, very few leaflets… just a couple hundred people kinda hanging out on the Rambla, a few of them holding up banners or signs.

Then the police trucks started rolling by. Cries of "fascista!" and a charming little chant of "La policia / mata y asesina!" started up. The black bloc types, who already stood out in a pretty colorful crowd, hurled a couple of bottles and garbage cans as the trucks as they passed. Cops stood in clusters, decked out with helmets and shields, looking for all the world like imperial stormtroopers dyed blue. In fact, I’m not sure whether much of anything would’ve happened without such a heavy police presence. Most of the time, people were milling about with cameras, snapping photos and waiting for something to happen.

Which, ultimately, it did. In response to some bit of agitation I missed, the police charged.
I didn’t see them, I just saw the wave: suddenly, all around me, people went from standing still to full-bore sprint in a split second. My first thought (after: "shit, I hope I don’t get trampled") was that it looked eerily like footage I’ve seen of cattle stampedes. We scattered into the network of back-alleys, emptying the main street in seconds. The crowd eventually re-coalesced, and I noticed that the shopkeepers had pulled down the metal gates over their doors and windows, but left them open just a crack, to watch what ensued. The second time this happened, I heard shots being fired behind me as I bolted onto a side street, and hoped it was just a scare tactic. As far as I know, it was. Still, after that, the "manifestacion" was pretty much over, though I hear that there was some serious violence the following evening.

What really struck me was the sort of Kabuki-like nature of the whole affair: it was as though the police and protesters were each playing parts in an elaborate stage play, each requiring the other to make the event come off. Almost everyone seemed to have a camera, and as far as I could tell, the point was to wait for something crazy to go down, then catch either (a) an anarchist burning something or (b) a cop beating the living shit out of someone. The rest of the time, rather than railing against the evils of globalization or the deregulation of energy markets (the EU summit’s raison d’etre), the crowd seemed filled with a quiet, expectant tension. I felt it myself. I mean, I have no stomach for violence, and I certainly don’t want to take a truncheon to the skull. Still, those stampedes… they were a hell of a rush. And if I believed in all this anti-globo tripe, to the extent that I could combine that sensation with the thought that I was doing something Important to Save the World, I’m sure it would be as addictive as crack.

Indymedia later called the clearing of the Ramblas "brutal." I don’t know about that. I did see one guy being hit by police, and one or two more with ugly bruises. And I was certainly scared when I was fleeing the street. But I also didn’t see any truly serious injuries, or tear gas. I did see black clad guys throwing some relatively heavy crap at police, and rolling big metal trashcans in front of police vehicles. That may have only been the doing of a few people, but I don’t know what else the cops were supposed to have done about it. Waded into the crowd looking for the agitators?

Anyway, without the requisite action/counterreaction, it wouldn’t have been a party, now would it?

Finally, around 4:30, I took off from Barcelona and drove to Valencia to meet up with Josean & Laura. I dug their band — Laboratorio Funk — though the acts which followed them were a little harder than is normally my taste. Still, those guys (Loop and Mano Cornuda) were salvaged by a double encore consisting of a thrash version of "I Will Survive" and Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I’ve got to admit, I was never a big Nirvana fan back when they were still around, but when I heard those first chords, I got hit with a combination of adrenaline and nostalgia, and turned into a screaming mosh-boy. Between all the driving, dancing, and not sleeping, I wrecked my right ankle, picked up a slight cough, and am now utterly sore. (The cough, of course, may have something to do with smoking these harsh Gauloises and trying to match Fiona Apple’s pipes during the drive, and the singer’s on SLTS. At least the cigs are cheap — they run the equivalent of $1.80/pack here.) Fortunately, I’ve had the day here at the house in Olvia to rest up, and I’ll be able to get a good nights sleep before heading back to Madrid tomorrow. Oh, yeah, I didn’t get to see The Strokes: turns out that the Barcelona show still had tickets, but not the one in Madrid. Well, whatever, I’m sure I’ll find enough amusement in Madrid to compensate.

Tags: Uncategorized