First Impressions: my barrio in Barcelona.




This is what I wrote on arriving:

"Walking through the street of a city I know just slightly, going through the ritual of deliberately getting lost, I feel a sense of elation, circumstances are congealing around me in a fortuitous formation and for the first time in a while I feel curious, hopeful.

Fresh from the mountains I am still looking at the city through country eyes, susceptible and easily caught by garish adverts, shop displays and architectural details. I am always searching the faces of passers by, catching eyes indiscreetly; I haven't mastered the urban art of mingling with the crowd insulated within myself.

Who am I in this environment? A goggle-eyed geirry? (Foreigner) An arty student? A traveller? The last few days I have stayed at Selva de Mar in a massive squatted factory amongst all the familiar faces, smells and sounds of the marginal world which has been my centre for so long. Now I am staying in neat little flat in a neighborhood I am yet to discover. I'll still be visiting the squat, I have a gig there in a couple of weeks and besides, all social circles connect and overlap, but the point is that in this new setting I have the opportunity to re-invent myself: I can break with past habits and become who knows who, because, here, so far, I am nobody...or so it seems, that's the beauty of first impressions, anything seems possible.

I feel so lucky to have found this little haven in the heart of the medieval warren that is the barrio gottico. The possibility to lay out all my stuff, an endless supply of electricity for my computer, space of my own, these things are precious luxury to me after the rigors of touring. Elena, my flat mate is a pixy like woman, who talks and talks with such animation that even when I don't understand her words I can grasp meaning from her lively face and gestures. Spanish is slowly coming back to me, I probably understand about half although speaking is harder... that's o.k. though, time for listening, absorbing and observing.

I love this barrio . Every time I have visited this city I have been attracted to it so it is an amazing chance to live here. In the vastness of the city I am going to concentrate on this tangled little patch of old stones and new humanity. Walking to the antic theatre the other night we encountered piles of rubbish on every corner, treasure troves of furniture and freshly washed clothes, I started to wonder what stories these basuras could tell..."

The neighborhood I was living in was Santa Catarina, within Ciudad Vella, the old central part of town. I was staying in a building on a narrow, dark alley c/ Tarros, which stretched between the Mercado Santa Catarina, (at the moment being rebuild), and a busy mainly pedestrian street: Calders. At the end of my alley is the Rai, a social centre, venue and youth club, which reflects the multicultural colours of this area. The shops here are all small. Internet and phone offices, tiny grocery stores, discount fashion shops are run by people from all over the place, Pakistan, the Caribbean and Morocco. Calders is never empty, day or night. You can here many languages being spoken, people weaving through the crowd on bikes, kids playing, music from the open windows of the flats. The Police are often here, hassling for papers, checking for illigales. I have never been bothered by them but my Serbian friend, who doesn't have papers, won't even come to this part of town just in case. This is also the neighborhood of thieves, pick pockets and bag snatchers who prey on in attentive tourists. I never had any bother but I saw other people get robbed twice. One afternoon I heard the shouts of an unfortunate victim beneath my window. Everyone in the buildings around came to their windows to look and tot and shrug.

Central Barcelona is a distinctive mixture, like a marble cake where the colours swirl together will still staying distinctive.   Just round the corner from Calders is Moncada, with it's medieval courtyards holding the Picasso museum and other chic little galleries. A little further on is the Born, a trendy quarter where gentrification is pushing property prices up. The medieval temple de Born was burnt by the anarchists in the civil war, you can still see black marks on the walls. Going in the other direction from my place, past the shops full of granny knickers and the fruit and veg stall of the friendly Abuela, one of the loan survivors of the on going refurbishment of the Mercado Santa Catarina. Just round the corner is the Antic theatre and next to it the Glüe Bar, the scene of many late night punk rock flamenco parties under the auspices of Judith, la Jeffe. Next to that is Bar Carlos where Sandra Rehdar sings tango to squeeze your heart. At the end of this alley way of nocturnal delights is the Palau de La Musica, art noveau symbol of Catalan high culture, then you come to the Via Leatana. This roman road was widened by the modernist and the beginning of last century and now it is one of the centers many arteries. Cross the road here and you come to the Cathedral, and the so-called Barri Gottic, stinking of tourists and history.