barcelona flaneuse

I've been to Barcelona three times and I'm ready to return!


TOURIST OR TRAVELER? Can I avoid being part of the “horde”?

2014-04-01 16.06.23

My cat neighbor seen from my tiny Barcelona apartment.

I love Barcelona.  Imagine my horror when I watched a YouTube video (Bye Bye Barcelona) that identifies tourism as the scourge that threatens to destroy this city I love.  In fact, Barcelona’s new mayor, Ada Colau, has pledged to somehow keep the city from coming to the fate of Venice, a city where tourism has all but cancelled out the possibility of a normal life for locals.

Is it possible to be a traveler, a visitor, and avoid at least some of the impact tourists inevitably have?  For — like it or not — I am a tourist in Barcelona even if i never set foot on La Rambla and stay away from Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.  And what’s the problem with tourism anyway?  Isn’t it a great source of income?

The problem is that in order to accommodate tourists with hotels, apartments, restaurants, fast food, tchotchkes and tee shirts, space is taken away from the normal functions of residential life, and the space that remains becomes much more expensive.  Crowds make it difficult to move.  The narrow street outside the Picasso Museum can get shoulder-to-shoulder intimate due to the waiting lines for the Museum (which is a beauty and seems well-managed).  Traffic can become impossible, as it has near both Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, driving out families who have lived in the area for generations.  Sometimes I think Gaudi has a lot to answer for.

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“My” apartment near Palau de la Musica Catalana and Santa Catarina Market.

While I know tourist apartments have an impact on local real estate, renting has given me a different perspective on the place I visit.  Even when I’ve traveled as the leader of a student group, I’ve believed that something as simple as cooking your own meals can shift your relationship with the place you visit. Negotiating a food market in a foreign city is a learning experience.

In my tiny apartment, I soon realized I needed clothes line and clothes pins (hardware store), a small pillow (dry goods store), food (veggies, cheese, coffee, wine), a caving block (art supply) and sundries (a pharmacy).  I had chosen this apartment for its proximity to Santa Catarina Market, but I quickly realized that lovely as the market is (and much more patronized by locals than La Boqueria), it was the green grocer a street away that had the greens and artichokes I wanted at a much lower price.

And one shop led to another.  A few doors down from me there was a small wine shop that had both the cava I wanted, good cheese, and a cashier who could point me toward a hardware, itself in a pretty tourist heavy area, El Born.  I found a great art shop, Vicente Piera on Corsega, a long hike from home, but every excursion took me past other noteworthy sites.  For instance Raima on Comtal, the most luscious stationary store I’ve ever been in.

And as you track down the clothes pins, you find yourself in the company of people like the woman with her shopping bag rather than the couple with their backpack.

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On her way to market.

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Outside Santa Maria del Mar in El Born.



KINTSUGI…And Creating a Regular Feature

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Not so long ago I swept my favorite tea bottle off the table with my elbow.  The tea bottle and I were both shattered. My impulse is always to save the shards, and I discovered the interior compartment was unbroken.  I put all the bits I could find into a bag and waited for inspiration to strike.

Time passed.  I considered putting the pieces together as well as I could, then covering the outside with papier mache, creating a sort of egg shell. But I saw no solution for washing the bottle.  I couldn’t imagine a way to make the papier mache waterproof — and I’d have covered up the blue and white ceramic, the reason I chose this bottle.

A solution occurred to me when I found a roll of clear, broad packing tape on the shelf near the epoxy I would use for the first step in reassembly.  The gluing was difficult — as much on me as the fragments, and yes, there were gaps.

Next I wrapped the scarred surface in the transparent tape.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.  It could be rinsed out and the bottle insulated the tea better than it had undamaged.  It occurred to me later that I was, in a clumsy way, practicing kintsugi, the art of mending or making do.

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In the Japanese tradition, valuable ceramics were repaired in a manner that did not attempt to hide the repair but to dramatize it with a sprinkling of powdered gold along the seams.  I had no gold powder, but I may have been practicing a more immediate tradition. My mother too saved the shards.  Her attitude always was, “If nothing else, I can put dried flowers in it!”  And blue and white objects were always salvaged.

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A week with a huge dumpster at my disposal has me asking many questions.  What is worth saving?  How do I decide? Is it a question of repairing or finding a new purpose?  When do I let go?

Clearly these questions apply to more than ancient blue and white tea pots.  But the urgent matter at hand is a blue plant pot that cracked when it was left out in last winter’s extreme cold.  Time to get the epoxy.