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Love thy neighbour, Barcelona style

11 Jun

Dear Neighbours,

I don’t mind, I swear I don’t.

I don’t mind stepping around the abandoned beer cans in the stairway on my way to work in the morning.

I don’t mind that weird lingering smell in the vestibule.

I don’t mind the drunk girl who runs about her flat in high heels at 5 a.m, bleating like a spring lamb. I think her childlike joy is sweet. I really do.

I don’t mind that you think siesta hour is the ideal time for a flamenco party. Sleep is overrated anyway.

I don’t mind that most of you stare at me silently with vacant saucer eyes when we pass in the stairway. Unable to crack a smile or muster up the customary two syllable ‘hola’ or even ‘hello’ in reply to my greeting. You were obviously raised by wolves back home.

No, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.

Wolves actually have excellent social skills.

I don’t mind that the father of the family squatting upstairs is most probably a pickpocket. At least when he heads out to work wearing a different British football T-shirt every evening, we smile and ask each other how the day went.

The one thing I do mind. The one thing I can’t stand anymore, are her cries. I’ve lived with her howls of rage and frustration for three days now. I’ve never heard such plaintive pain in a voice and it haunts me day and night.

So please, dear neighbour, for the love of god, if there is any decency in you.

When this cycle is over, neuter your horny little cat.


The night shift

14 Oct

6:30 a.m. Barcelona city center

Part 1. The Protective Prostitutes

Us (flyering): Come to the Fish n Chip shop ladies. It’s open at 6 am every weekend. Good food and drink!

The girls smile and accept the flyers and we make to move off.

Lillian: Here! Come back! Tell me….tell me some more about the Fish n Chip shop.

Us: Sure, well you can get Fish and Chips, it’s deep fried. And you can get an English breakfast or an American breakfast.

Lillian (quietly): Keep talking to us girls, that man there is waiting to rob you.

Me: Oh thanks for the warning! What’s your name?

Lillian: I’m Lillian, I’m from Mozambique.

Muriel: I’m Muriel, from Kenya

Shady man gives up and walks away.

Me: Nice to meet you ladies, do you work here during the day? I’ll say hello if I pass by.

Lillian: Oh no! We don’t work in the day.

Muriel: Nah, we study in the day.

Me: What do you study?

Lillian: Anything we can. Catalan, Spanish, any free course we find.

Muriel: Yeah, we want to be ready for the day we get our papers. As soon as we get papers, we’re going to find real jobs.


Part 2. The Flirtatious Thieves

Boy: Excuse me señora! Is this yours?

Me: Hey, that’s my wallet!

Boy: Yeah, you must have dropped it back there.

Me: No I didn’t. You stole it!

Sheepish grin

Me: So, did you find any money in it?

Boy: Er…no, even the phone was crap….

Me (in my best teacherly voice): Now don’t you feel ashamed trying to rob a girl with no money?

Boy (Sheepish grin): I came to give it back to you, and….umm… could I get your phone number?

Me (laughing): No way!

Boy: But why?

Me: Because you’re a robbing bastard, that’s why!

Boy’s mates (laughing at him): You’re a robbing bastard! Ha ha ha!

Boy: Aww cmon, it was too easy. This city is full of thieves. (In his best teacherly voice) You should be more careful!

Read more on Barcelona’s crime at the Thief hunters in Paradise blog.

Put off that red light?

18 Aug

Thanks to Bri from Barcelona Street Scraps for the theme of this post.

Yesterday the Ajuntament (local council) of Barcelona launched its anti-prostitution drive. Prostitution is legal in Spain, but Barcelona made it illegal in April 2012.

Not that anyone can tell the difference.

The first time I walked into the Raval I remember the shock of suddenly finding myself in the midst of hooker alley (Nou de la Rambla between Carrer Nou de Sadurni and Carrer d’En Robador). Paris’ Pigale looked like a broadway musical compared this gritty corner of the Raval.

Yet now, the girls are just part of the street scape for residents, be it the suspicious Nigerian girls who scowl at me when I say hola, or the girl who wears tinsel around her thighs for Christmas or the wizened old 4 1/5 foot tall lady in cowboy boots. They all seem as much part of the barrio as the skateboarding hipsters (damn them and their coolness), the faintly lecherous and faintly disapproving Pakistani shop keepers and the walking inebriated.

However, the government didn’t go and build a nice big Filmoteca, exactly on hooker alley for the entertainment of the ladies or their punters. No siree, this is all part of the ‘esponjament (mopping up) Raval’ operation. A legacy of the city’s pre-olympic rush to wipe it’s nose and straighten it’s collar.

Enter operation ‘Anti prostitution’.

So, gentlemen take heed; According to the expatica website, under the new laws the client faces fines from 1,000 to 1,500 euros and the lady or tranny faces fines from 100 to 750 if caught. The difference in fines depends on your proximity to a school when the ‘soliciting’ takes place. Less than 200 feet from a school, and you have been a VERY bad boy! If you decide to save on the cost of a hotel room by doing it in the street like these douche bags, you get fined 3,000 Euros.

The prostitute can avoid her fine if she attends the government’s ‘stop being such a dirty whore’ course.

On April 26th this year prostitutes protested the criminalization of their trade. They call themselves the Prostitutas Indignadas, part of the 99%.

Criminalization? Sounds like another excuse for a fine if you ask me. The disingenuous answer to the question- How do we fill this gap in the government budget?

But at the same time, for every fantastic, hideously kinky Monica del Raval style prostitute proudly strutting her stuff out there, and every glamorous Bel De Jour style high class hooker doing it because it makes her lotsa money, there are ten doe eyed, coal black teenage beauties who look like this world never gave them a fucking break, not since the moment they first opened their baby eyes.

So while criminalization isn’t the answer, support is needed for sex slaves and women who want out. After all, hasn’t it been possible to protect people from enslavement in other professions like farming and garment production without making the entire profession illegal?

The Ajuntament has made encouraging noises in this respect.

They have increased funding for the Agency for a Comprehensive Approach to Sex Workers (ABITS) by 67%. The agency provides training resources to prostitutes wishing to find another job. With the new funding it is going to set up a special division for African women who need more intensive support.

Question is dear government, what help can an illegal immigrant prostitute access without fear of deportation?

La gente de Raval by Joan Colom

All photographs by Joan Colom, La gente de Raval

Monica del Raval: Autobiography of a whore

17 Aug

Monica Del Raval is a documentary of a prostitute who came to Barcelona and made the Raval her home.

Monica herself is, well ‘eye-catching’ to say the least. The documentary is long, and narrates most of her life. I can’t say that I liked it beyond the excitement of watching the Raval on camera, but it does give an interesting perspective of our little world. I watched it last year in preparation of all things, for a job interview.

For some reason, at the time I watched it I thought it was a docu-drama with imaginary characters. I was wrong. Last night, bathed in the bright strobe of another aspiring film maker, the lady herself walked past us on the terrace. She was wearing the same red dress as in the picture below. Monica del Raval is real!

Watch the documentary for free on the Culture Unplugged website.

Raval’s landmark squat Barrilonia evicted: Another nail in the community coffin

22 Jul

Oh the shame of it! I’ve become a symptom of my time. Head down, scurrying out to work and then wandering home, always lost inside my myopic little world of worries; it took a facebook post for me to realise my neighbourhood squat has been evicted and bricked up.

Now Barrialonia, as it was called, was not just a squat.

It was a community center. It used to host concerts, political meetings and community parties. They celebrated Id last year by cooking up a massive pot of biriyani and setting tables and chairs out on La Rambla del Raval for an open air picnic for the neighbourhood.

They organised makeshift movie nights on the Rambla with a small projector and screen, and anyone interested just had to park their bum on the street and get comfortable. They hosted debates and talks about Real Democracy and kept the movement alive between the more high-profile marches.

The council’s reasons for shutting the squat down are ‘structural concerns’ with the building. They used similar excuses to shut down other squats in Barcelona in the past, including la Makabra, Miles de Viviendas and Ruina Amalia. In all these cases, the squats served as community centres which hosted art classes and exhibitions, spaces for political debate and spaces to celebrate cultures.

What follows is usually either swift demolition of the building or comprehensive bricking up of all entrances, which is then followed by….. nothing.


They won’t attempt to replace the space with a council built community center, sports center or art space. They can’t afford to. That much is blatantly obvious, this being an economic crisis and all. So why go and kick the sand box over in the first place? Is it so bad to have people with initiative doing something in their community?

Dear government, haven’t you realised it is the people with ideas, opinions and initiative who will save you from this nightmarish crisis?

Barcelona Photo blog Day 10: There are no Gods in the Raval, only The Cat

22 Jun

The philosophy of meaning, Raval style:

If a man does something which isn’t witnessed by the Cat, that performance makes no sound, creates no image and leaves no impression.

It did not happen, if the Cat did not see it.

We didn’t come up with this understanding ourselves of course, some clever clogs did it hundreds of years ago. William Fosset (Natural States, 1754) wrote:

“to say something is meaningful is to say that that is how we arrange it so; how we comprehend it to be, and what is comprehended by you or I may not be by a cat, for example.

If a tree falls in a park and there is no-one to hand, it is silent and invisible and nameless. And if we were to vanish, there would be no tree at all; any meaning would vanish along with us. Other than what the cats make of it all, of course.”

So the next question we have to ask ourselves is

What does the Cat make of it all?

Carribean home cooking from the boy next door

19 Mar

Walking up the endless stairs to my former flat in the Raval I notice a picture on the door of the flat below us. It’s chef from South Park. Him of the ‘lick my salty chocolate balls’ song fame is the only bit of discrete advertising announcing glad tidings for Barcelona foodies.

The boys downstairs are bringing home cooking back to the home. Forget about those hyped up New Yorky home restaurants or so-called secret kitchens, come down to Raval’s Funky Chicken Eat Caribbean for some living room hospitality.

Think of it as an invite-only house party held at lunch and dinner time, Friday to Sunday, with the expectation you contribute to your host’s costs. Call or email to arrange your invite.

Hooray for Jerk Chicken loveliness!

Join chef on Facebook or visit his Funky Chicken page.

The family holiday

14 Jan

Even amongst the seething mass of colourful crazy inhabitants of Raval, he stood out like a dark tower. Sporting a big bushy beard, long hair, filthy bare feet and eyes which a kindly person given to gross understatements might describe as stark raving mad.

He seemed to just crop up on the Raval one day. Already geared to full throttle insanity. A Blue-Peter nutter, pre made before the show. For two weeks he strode up and down La Rambla de Raval shouting his rage to the skies or rocking in doorways, growling and muttering to himself.

Something about him, about those demons howling out of his eyes and reaching out to pull us in, made the Ravaliers kind. When the police rounded on him, a homeless alcoholic shuffled up and talked them out of arresting him. Street thugs shrugged off his physical and verbal assaults with no attempt at retribution. Men walking by would stop and offer him cigarettes. Some days he would accept a black coffee and a slice of bread from us, kiss our hands and call us beautiful. Other days he’d spit and call us whores.

He told us stories. Of the mafia-like woman who lived down the road and her evil son who brandished his pistol at him. Of the electricity shooting out of his feet which prevents him from wearing shoes. Of his family who went on holiday, and how he somehow got locked out of the house. ´This is why I’m like this’ he gestures at his dirty clothes and blackened feet, ‘And now that man with the gun is going to kill me’.
For two weeks, Mr. Electric Feet was everywhere.

Then he was gone. A silent full stop.

Raval life flowed in to fill the space he left empty. Comfortingly normal chaos resumed.

A month passed. Then a neatly groomed young man in his late twenties walked in. He handed in a twenty euro note and asked for change. When he was given two 10 euro notes he handed one back. ‘For the coffees’.

We were confused ‘Do you want a coffee?’ ‘No it’s for the coffees from before’. Our confusion increased ‘Coffees from before? We don’t remember you mate’.

‘Never mind, keep the money anyway’ he shrugs and turns to leave. Just as he walks out the door, his smiling brown eyes meet mine and from their depths a cheerful little demon waves back.

‘I think….’
‘Didn’t he remind you of…..’
‘Kind of looked like….’

I think Mr. Electric Feet is going to be alright.

Ode to a workaholic

15 Oct

He gets to work at 12 noon every day and starts a 12-13 hour shift. Always freshly showered and shaved, in laundered and ironed clothes, and never ever in yesterdays T-shirt.

He greets his colleagues before going in to a cafe and getting himself a coffee. A cortado (literally a cut coffee- half a coffee), easy on the coffee, heavy on the milk, 3 sugars and for the love of god no foam.

Then he sets up his work place- an upturned mayonaise bucket with a bit of cardboard today, a stolen footstool tomorrow. Ensures his shelves are well stocked- the parcel hanging from a string inside the cardboard recycling bin, the little pellets under the bin, 5 little balls wrapped up in cling film and lined up under a parked van and every nook and cranny available inside a phone booth. He stopped using the cafe toilets after the staff started stealing.

Then he sits himself down and waits for his clients.

And they come in a constant stream. Punks and hippys, born and bred in the barrio Catalans, working class Spanish folk, students, immigrants, vagrants, tourists and even the occasional expat. White haired old ladies totter up with their yappy yorkies, slip him a 20 euro note and collect. If they decide to give him a piece of their mind, he stands with his hands folded and head bowed, nodding respectfully until they finish. Cheerful guys in wheelchairs get pushed over by their carer to make the exchange. This takes longer because others come over to say hello and ensure he’s getting a good price.

Half way through the day his girlfriend may come over with a little bag to replenish stocks. She may bring him a Tupperware box with food she cooked for him which he may decide to (unwisely) reject. If he rejects it she calls him a son of a whore and they scream abuse at each other for the best part of an hour. During this time, his friend deals with clients who try to approach him.

He also finds time to watch movies on his netbook while talking on his hands-free device, read a copy of Obama’s biography which he pulled out of the recycling bin, flirt with blinged up ghetto babes, rescue a baby sparrow, play football with neighborhood kids and threaten insane Joe Pesci style violence on anyone foolish enough to try to make a phone call from his phone booth.

The police come by occasionally and search the bins and surrounding areas, or stop and search a periphery player.

But no one has ever seen them search or question the workaholic.

Pesci playing Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas

Round two: Me Vs non-writerhood

12 Oct

It’s been 9 months since I last posted a blog, and contrary to narrative imperative, I have not given birth in those 9 months. What I have been getting up to can be summarized easily:

1. Getting disgruntled with life in general
2. Changing jobs
3. Moving house from the tranquility of La Floresta to the insanity of El Raval
4. Enjoying said insanity immensely
5. Getting laid off and finding a new job at….. wait for it…..the Fish n Chip shop!
6. Attending a writers group….once
7. Making new friends
8. Resolving to start Spanish lessons again
9. Meeting Toots from Toots and the Maytals
10. Signing up for the blog-a-day challenge and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which participants take up the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Sign up, its gonna be fun!
11. Still enjoying previously mentioned insanity and new friends
12. Getting singed by the devils at the Merce festival
13. Realizing exactly what a Spanish friend meant when he once told me he missed an appointment because he was ‘lost to the city’ for three days
14. Feeling guilty about ignoring the blog-a-day challenge
15. Starting teaching again after the summer break
16. Taking action on my guilt…. one month later

Taking pictures at the last Toots gig in Barcelona