Thursday, August 31, 2006

Barcelona - Too many questions

Up until recently, the very mention of “Barcelona” would send my mind jumping from the image of Freddy Mercury singing with a fat lady at a fountain, to random names such George Orwell, Linford Christie and some punter known as Gaudi, before it would finally settle on a curious club policy of sponsor-free football jerseys.

However now that I have visited the city on numerous occasions and my streams of consciousness take a very different route, I regret to say that Barcelona still seems as far away from me as before. The truth is that while I can recognise that it is more European and cosmopolitan than any other Spanish city, I continue to wait for Barcelona to reveal itself to me. So what is it that keeps passing me by? I feel somewhat embarrassed and under qualified to write about this, Spain’s second city, as I sense that almost everyone grasps the essence of the Catalan capital except for yours truly. Indeed given that I find myself in the clear minority for quite some time now, I am inclined to think that the problem is me and not Barcelona. But even so, my dilemma remains the same…. do I love the city or do I hate it?

Founded in 230 B.C by a Carthaginian, Barcelona boasts an existence of well over 1000 years before Moors built a fortress in 900 A.D which would in time become Madrid. Still and all in addition to an older heritage and a much envied beach, Barcelona is also ostensibly far wealthier than its landlocked rival. In point of fact, looking up at architect Jean Neovel´s latest offering which houses the city water board I am shocked at the money that the city hall has to splash out on such projects. Craning my neck upwards to take in the new Agbar Tower I quickly recalled the common belief that Catalan parliamentary parties keep the eclectic national coalition in power on the condition that Madrid redirect funds originally intended for the underdeveloped, poverty stricken south. That said, I know Spain to be riddled with regional rivalry and bitterness with its Catholic citizens always having coveted their neighbours goods in loud anger. Furthermore the Catalans are proven to be excellent money handlers and blessed with Spain’s only decent sea port whose cranes dangle almost every Spanish import and export conceivable. In light of this, should their opulence really require such conspiracy theories?

I have long been a supporter of the Catalan drive for federal autonomy and admire the Catalans for how they have brought their language back to life over the last 120 years. This is despite the fact I remain completely in the dark as to what makes you Catalan aside from family origen and place of birth. I keep wondering what it is that makes a Catalan "more" different to every other Spaniard? Nonetheless, regardless of my innocent ignorance I regularly defend all things Catalan to my narrow minded “United Spain” friends. Ironically however, being a red haired Irish man somehow makes me the perfect person for a Catalan to make their political point to. In Barcelona people fail to realise that I don't have say in Spanish politics and I am absolutely no threat to their interests. All I want is to do is spend my money in their vein city, so why insist on speaking Catalan to me when I hear them speaking Castilian to their partners only seconds before!! This for me sums up Barcelona. I arrive there with affection and admiration for its ground breaking architecture, the style of its citizens, the civil war stand against Franco and the city’s perfect geographic location…but then the locals just insist on ruining it all. From my experience to date the friendliest people in Barcelona are Argentine, Irish and Indian but certainly not Catalan. It cannot possibly be so that to be Catalan is merely to be cold, stubborn and good with money.

Yet despite all of my complaints I still return. Perhaps this is because while my adopted Madrid has very much a village ambience to it, Barcelona has the vibrant city feel which any person including myself will sometimes crave. Like everyone else I love to walk around Barcelona´s narrow streets and get lost between the the tree lined some places even that is enough to find a city´s pulse. I love to sit on the humid terraces and listen to coffee being ordered in the accents of about ten different languages......still no pulse. I go clubbing all night and finish by arguing and laughing with Taxi drivers....but alas the city slips through my fingers once more. I am beginning to believe defeatedly that to enjoy Barcelona I really need to live there. That way I could get under its skin and finally figure out the vibe that eludes me so much. Until I do so, it will continue to be for me the the city that forever disappoints.

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