One of the things about traveling that is both exhilarating and frustrating is the lack of time (or discipline) to keep up writing about the experiences. We always write after the fact, and when you’re having a busy and great time, it’s easy to let things slide. So, apologies for the delay. I’m now in Madrid, which is an experience worth having on its own, but I have to say that my heart is truly in Barcelona. One of the best things I did before leaving that magical place was take a 3-hour walking tour of the Spanish Civil War, as it played out there. If you have a chance to do this with Brit ex-pat Nick Lloyd, do not hesitate. Nick knows his subject, is deeply passionate about it, having lived in the city for the past 25 years, and he is currently finishing his own book on the subject. If you happen to be fortunate to be heading to Barça, you can find his tour at this website: http://iberianature.com/barcelona/history-of-barcelona/spanish-civil-war-tour-in-barcelona/
Starting in reverse order, here is a photo of Nick at the end of our tour outside the café where we finished up.
This café is filled with memorabilia of the period. The tour started at Plaça Catalunya and took us through many of the narrow streets in the Gothic quarter of the old city, where many of the working class attempted to resist Franco’s regime as it began to take over following the self-imposed exile of King Alfonso XIII. Conditions among the working class had not improved as they had for the upper-middle classes at the end of the 19th century, and low wages, crowded housing, and continuous public health issues continued to make life short and difficult for those living in the old city. Despite the fact that Spain is a heavily Catholic country, the working class of Barcelona found little support for their plight among the clergy, partly because they identified as Catalan and not Spanish. As the centre of government, Madrid was seen by many as the enemy of the people, and the Catholic Church as a minion of the state. Much violence occurred on both sides. In some cases the clergy were given arms to control the population that turned more often to the Anarcho-Syndicalist trade union, the CNT (Confederación Nacional de Trabajo), and supported revolution. The working class fought back, and for example, in 1936 at the height of anti-clerical sentiment, the working class set fire to the interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, destroying much of the Baroque art that had been housed there. You can still see the marks of black soot in the stone ceiling today. This image from a prior visit shows some of the damage.
Eventually, as we know from history, Franco’s forces crushed the rebellion and the city fell. Continuous pressure from Francoist forces, such as the bombing of Plaça de Sant Filip Neri in 1938, which was one of the worst atrocities sanctioned by Franco, took the lives of 42 civilians – mostly children attending the church school – no doubt depleted the resources and resistance of the people. There is now a plaque that commemorates this particular event, and close by a message written on the stone wall in English.
In early 1939 the city fell to the Francoist forces, and the entirety of Spain, Castilian and Catalan alike, were controlled by the fascist regime until the death of Franco in 1975. The sentiments of socialism and anarchism remain strong in Catalunya, as this painted wall that faces into Parc Güell – where many tourists from all over the world explore the magnificence of Gaudí’s design. I found this particularly poignant now that the country is facing such harsh conditions in the current economic crisis, which shows no signs of diminishing any time soon.
I made many sojourns to the park during my second two weeks in the city when I stayed in the Gràcia neighbourhood, about a 10 minute walk from this beautiful park. Next to being down at the sea, this is my favourite place. It is by turns restful and contemplative, and full of life with buskers and musicians performing. I returned numerous times during my two weeks in the neighbourhood to hear this man play spanish guitar.
Rafi plays in the park regularly. On my last day, I spoke with him in my very halting mix of Catalan and Spanish and he in an equally broken mix of Catalan and English, but we managed to communicate just fine. He gave me a copy of his CD, which will always remind me of the afternoons sitting peacefully listening. His version of Besame Mucho is so expressive, it almost made me weep.
These are the moments that for me will always draw me back to Barcelona. The best is when they are shared with the people I meet. My host, Paulo is one of the most genuine human beings I have had the good fortune to encounter. I now count him among the friends I’ve made. He took me up to Montjuïc on his motorbike before I left the city to enjoy the view and share some paella. In turn I introduced him to my favourite coffee from Cafés Magnifico, near Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral.
While I was staying at his place, I also met these two characters, Kathrin and her daughter Meret, from Liechtenstein. They shared tips on things they discovered and I returned the favour. Eventually we teamed up and shared some really fun days at the beach and in the park.
Every time I leave Barcelona I feel a little sad, but I always know I will be back. The enchantress has a way with her.