Saturday, 8 November 2014

What Happens in Barcelona

Tomorrow (November 9) is D Day in Catalonia, when the region goes to the polls in a supposedly illegal vote on independence denounced by the central government in Madrid. I'm really fascinated by the link between personal psychology and political beliefs (of which much more in some later blogs), but today just wanted to muse on some aspects of my own psychology.

A few days ago I happened to be in Barcelona (Image of Placa Reial above, courtesy of Josep Renalias): it was my third time...or was it my fourth? That's where the trouble began. No matter how much I thought about it I couldn't quite work it out. I know for example that I was definitely in Barcelona as a teenager on my first big solo trip around Europe in July 1987. I can remember clearly the room in the centre of town with plantation shutters and street-side balcony I paid 600 pesetas (£3) a night to stay in. I can remember a couple of Japanese guys I met at the Sangrada Familia who wrote the characters 'Hissho' ('We Must Write to Each Other!'), which I still have somewhere, though I never did write to them. (Someone suggested I could look them up on Facebook with a 'I know it's been a while but...')

And then I'm very clear I was back again in March 1998, when I was visiting a friend and when I stayed at the wonderful Hotel Jardi in the middle of the Bari Goti and opened my windows to allow spring-like warmth to flood my being as I marvelled at the heavenly, tranquil square below. I also enjoyed one of the best St. Patrick's Nights ever in the multitudinous Irish pubs of Barcelona.

But then things start getting increasingly murky. For example I'm sure I've been to the nearby town of Tarragona, but can't place it on either of these trips, which leaves me wondering whether I made a third trip. To forget about a single day is one thing, but to mentally lose an entire trip seems like carelessness... Perhaps though I've actually never been to Tarragona at all and am just dreaming that I have...I'm increasingly coming to the point where I have to recognize that my memories and my dreams are becoming fused and ever more difficult to disentangle.

And then, even more worryingly, there's the Olympics. If there's one thing I was very clear on it was that I was first in Barcelona the year before they held the Olympics in 1988. (I had hardly even heard of this sleepy town called Barcelona at the time and then, a year later, bang, it was suddenly the coolest city in the world.) I have a very quirky habit of often travelling to places with guide books that are nearly 25 years out of date (I once acquired a set of travel guides in a competition and, Scrooge-like, am forever trying to squeeze drops of use out of them). So there I am in Barcelona with my 'Fodors Spain 1991' and I marvel that on the front cover it offers a 'preview to the Olympics'. Preview?! How could it be a preview? The Olympics happened there 3 years before...I briefly considered that they might have happened in 1992 but that of course was the year they were in Seoul - I remember that because I was travelling in Japan at the time. Just to be sure, I googled and discovered that the Barcelona Olympics were indeed in 1992 and that my memories were simply all over the place...

You might conclude from this and the fact that I keep going back to Barcelona, that I really love the place. What's not to love? The former home of Picasso, Miro (pictured left) and Gaudi; the last redoubt of noble Republicans and Anarchists; the best football in the world; the beach. Yet, whisper it quietly, I've always been very indifferent to Barcelona. The Picasso Museum? Once was enough. Sangrada Familia? Not still building that, surely? The Miro Museum - yes, well I would go back to the Miro Museum because I really like Miro, if I could find time to go up Montjuic...I feel guilty for admitting it, but I'm actually much more interested in Madrid than Barcelona. My idea of pure, self-indulgent heaven would be to sneak off for a week and spend every day commuting like a banker to the Prado to commune with Velasquez, Goya and El Greco before passing blissful evenings in Madrid's busy squares.

Alarmingly, this places me on the wrong side of Spain's interminable psychological civil war, on the side of the government and the establishment, on the side of the former fascistas, on order at all costs. Spiritually, I feel I should be in the trenches with Barcelona and the Republicans, copy of Orwell in my knapsack.

Finding then that my memories of Barcelona were in such tumult and disarray, that the Anarchists had completely taken over, I finally decided it was pointless trying to impose any order upon them and ordered my fascist columns to retreat. It was time to yield at last to Barcelona. What had happened to me over the years in Barcelona? Only Barcelona knew.

As for the Catalans and their independence debate, well of course I hope they will have some chance to decide for themselves. Though I don't think that anyone would see Catalonia as more or less of a nation if they assumed all the paraphernalia of a state. To me, first and foremost, Catalonia is a state of mind. It's not so much that Madrid is better or worse than its great Catalan rival, the truly wonderful thing is that they are so different and play off against each other so inspirationally. While logic, vigorous process and analysis have their place so too has the mental creativity engendered by the fusion of fact, surrealism and fantasy. When you put them all together, whether in the space of a single head, or in an ongoing national schism, you end up with something like the creative tension of an El Clasico.

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