Thursday, March 1

Letter from Barcelona

Barcelona...Flying High
People love to say that the US & UK are two countries separated by a common language.  I would like to wager that Spain & Italy are two countries separated by their "mediterranean-ness."  Sure, on face value, gorgeous art, warm people, unparalleled food, magnificent scenery...would seem to keep them both centered on anyone's compass as the 'best place on earth' to be.  I couldn't agree more.  But on my recent visit to Barcelona, there were some indications, large & small, that made you think, No, Toto, we are not in Calcata anymore...

Rome Airport's TAXI stand over here
Upon arrivals at the spiffy, new airport terminals, you had the feeling you had mistakenly landed in a shopping mall.  Not that anyone wants to stay in the airport that long, but hey...The black & yellow taxis were parked just outside the door, easily distinguishable, and a quick - not expensive shot into town.  We watched the meter without having to discern whether or not, as in Rome, we were heading inside or outside the Aurelian Walls  (last mentioned in a tour guide for Cleopatra's trip down the in...When you reach the Aurelian Walls our boat will dock and Caesar will greet you on the shore). Nor did we worry whether or not the taxi driver had set his meter on the tiny 2 or the tinier number 1, over-charging tourists who, in their jet-lagged stupor, have no idea what this means...

Barcelona's idea of London's "LOOK LEFT"
one in three die at cross walks.
Walking around town you discover vast boulevards incredibly not lined by dog poo to demarcate your path, but rather with pedestrian malls, and spotless bike paths that promise a contiguous flow all over town.  Bikers abound as does the bike rental service bicing, but you don't get the sense you might die in the enterprise.  As for the ubiquitous motorinos, they reminded me of home, but I did a double-take when they all stopped meticulously well before the pedestrian crosswalk so people, dogs, and baby strollers could actually get to the other side without performing their zig-zag dance of death.
Both countries were mired in protests by pretty much every category on earth: the hospital workers, the baggage guys, the teachers, and yesterday, the city seemed under attack while the police came out in seriously full force to monitor anarchists marching down the Gran Via.  Subways and the Arena Shopping Mall were closed down immediately, carefully monitored while shoppers hesitantly made their way in, single file (talk about putting a spin on greeters!).  Groups of police were everywhere, but not once did I see them copping a smoke or talking on cellphones, and only rarely talking with each other; a regular feature of police duty in Italy.  Someone remarked that after all, Spain was once a dictatorship.  Although I had to giggle as protesters sat down in the middle of a major intersection, stopping traffic in every direction, and the electronic sign above their heads read, "Gran Via - Fluida".
The subways and airport trains are extra-large, clearly designed for people with luggage.  Great glass elevators right out of Charlie's Chocolate Factory carry you up and down from platforms on every street corner.  Once in the bowels, the halls & platforms sparkle; making even Washington DC's lines look worn out (of course, one can always make the case that the DC trains look so great because the lights are dimmed to the point you can't actually see the dirt surrounding you).  We never waited more than 3 minutes for any subway to pass.  Back above ground, the Wifi system worked nearly everywhere, and you didn't need to sign away your first-born baby and wait for passwords to be sent to you (that incredibly you need an internet connection in order to retrieve them).
But for me, one of the biggest stand-outs marking the difference in our supposedly like mediterranean ways was the total absence of advertising posters showing naked or near-naked women in all levels of disrobing.  Not a one. In her video documentary, Il Corpo delle Donne*, Lorella Zanardo insists that this is a unique & sickening feature of the Italian landscape.  Up to now, I was never quite convinced of this.  But after having combed the entire Barcelona cityscape, I couldn't help but think that something seemed to be missing.  And then I realized what that was.
And while in Barcelona, you still see graffiti pock-marking the plazas and pick-pocketing is a national pastime and cappuccino costs more than caffè col leche, it seems a small price to pay for a fairly flawless tourist experience.

*scroll to bottom to find it in your language

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