Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't bite the hand that feeds you!!

I've noticed over the years of living in Barcelona as an ex-pat, that the Catalans like to complain. I mean, everyone complains and more often than not we have our innate human right to complain about something.
I remember for example being absolutely amazed at the sights in Barcelona just a few days after the "War on Terror" and the invasion on Iraq. People would coordinate for 21h and bang pots and pans outside their windows, honk horns (if you were on the way back from work and hadn't had the chance to get back to your kitchen)and this would go on for at least 20 minutes, at first for successive days. This struck me as a very humanitarian episode, but at the same time a futile exercise. Who is going to hear you? The Spanish government, maybe (it made the news for a few days), the people or the soldiers in Iraq? I doubt it.

And this has gone on ever since - not so much the pots and pans banging, but many manifestations and gripes about one thing or the other. My family and I were out walking one Sunday, and happened upon a group holding up traffic on Las Ramblas. Problem was, as much as I tried to read 15 metre-long the banners they were holding, one end was held by a person smoking and chatting and the other was at least 5/6 steps behind making it almost impossible for anyone to read just what they were complaining about. Unfortunately I have no hard evidence to show for these ramblings, but I do have two new ones, which again strike me as odd. I may well ruffle a few feathers here, so beware.

The recent festivities of "La Merçe" festival for me have been the longest in recent memory. I think the fact that the actual feast day of Our Lady of Mercy this year fell on a Wednesday made the whole festivities stretch out that bit longer. Events started on the previous Thursday, and continued right up until the fireworks on Montjüic on Wednesday night. A typical stroll though the Gothic Quarter on this week is a great way to visit Barcelona and appreciate its popularity - with residents and tourists alike. So, lo and behold, what do we see on every free space available on walls but "flyers/posters" in (it has to be said fairly arty) protest to the activity brought about by La Merçe.

The poster says "Neighbours - a species in danger of extinction". Now, I know that there is a high proportion of tourism be it hotels or Barcelona apartments for rent within the old town, but it's the centre of the city, so it's to be expected. Spain's main income (and that includes Catalunya) is from Tourism, and according to the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Spain, Catalunya (read Barcelona) has the Lion's share of this influx. There are so many low cost airlines arriving daily to BCN, Reus and Girona, it's impossible to keep up!

Another poster that I saw today caught my attention. This was also a prostest, but against the whole system - the poster invites you to "celebrate 20 years of social and urban destrucion...dirty war...mobbing (what the Barcelonans have dubbed as aggressive estate agencies hounding you out of your home), tourist exploits..." you get the idea. This protest was to be housed on the Rambla del Raval - just as the new 4 star (well overdue) Barcelo Raval hotel opened it's doors. I don't think anyone would disagree that the new hotel will shine like a beacon in the new Raval (kind of like the original idea of the rambla del raval) and that it can only have a positive effect on the area. The new Filmoteca is underway (again, well overdue), and it's great to see development in the middle of the Raval, to follow suit with upper Raval (MACBA, CCCB, etc.) The poster depicts the new hotel as a backdrop to slums and a cheesy yougster smiling in the foreground.

I suppose the puzzling thing is that all of these new improvements are geared towards the end user - which is not always the tourist. This summer has seen an amazing amount of new "bicing" points scattered around the city (in fact you can't go too far without finding a new one), not to mention huge overhauls in bike lanes and the removal of Zona Blau (zone parking). How is all of this funded? Tax payers - main income = tourism. Many, many industries thrive on Barcelona tourism (and I'm not talking about the tourist shops dotted along las Ramblas) and not just the hotels. I sympathise with the house pricing in Barcelona which according to minimum wage is an absolute joke, but to generalise the whole system as including tourism as a negative aspect, I find ridiculous. Just ask Madrid how tourism and businesses were affected after the atrocious bombings - this is by no means a "be careful what you wish for" message - just a confused foreigner in the old town, maybe missing the point.

Barcelona apartments for groups


Follow Me on Twitter