Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Somos la hostia o Volem mes

Saturday night turned out to be a landmark evening of sorts, a (hopefully) once in a life time experience that will be hard to forget, even if admittedly memory is a bit hazy already for various and different reasons.

The match had finished (see also below) and my two friends, a Belgian guy and a Czech girl, decided we would go to visit the protesters in Plaça Catalunya on the way to meet a Colombian friend (not that sort of Colombian). The square is more or less at the end of my street, maybe 2 minutes walking. Arriving at the top of the street things seemed a bit quiet given that Football Club Barcelona had just won the Champions League. There was the zumbido (hum) in the distance of what seemed like people in the near distance celebrating as is traditional at the Font de Canaletes part of La Rambla, just where it meets the square, another two minutes’ walk further on.

Instead of revellers we were meet by a disperse cordon of riot police. Since they weren’t doing anything and neither were we, we approached gingerly. I went up to one and asked if we could go to the square. He gruffly replied no and to go away. I told him, we just want to go to the square to see the people. This time his reply was harsher, but not quite as harsh and intense as his colleague who suddenly started to open fire with his automatic assault rifle right next to us. Ok. We won’t go to the square then. As shots rang out next to us, as visors were lowered and positions held, we backed away slowly from the square in an orderly fashion to not cause more alarm and problems. Behind us in the street a crowd had cautiously approached with us, but as the police opened fire they turned and fled. Last thing we needed was a baton across the head or a rubber bullet in the ribs.
We went another way and found a horrible club and went inside. And so ended the first and hopefully only night that the police ever shoot at me.

Friday wasn’t such a good day however.. The excuse was that the local government (the Generalitat) needed to clean the square, so the garbage trucks arrived early on Friday morning. With the police. Even before I was out of bed I knew something was happening as there was a helicopter circling overhead that wasn’t leaving the vicinity. Even poor Kafka the cat was annoyed by the noise. My only regret is not trying to get closer to the square to film a little before I went to work, but as always, there is more to do than should be sensibly done to make a living.

The result of course was the usual mêlée between the police and unarmed protesters and a fair bit of blood shed (see video). Just to clean the square, apparently.

I did go to the square to film again on Saturday morning and it was almost as if nothing had happened. The mood was more bullish and more urgent perhaps than it had been (a contributing factor perhaps being that the socialists were well beaten in the recent election) and there was a newly erected stand where citizens were able to fill out forms and declarations to denounce the police activity. Ironically, there were plenty of people there cleaning the square (despite the odour of piss still lingering near some parts of the periphery). This is actually not a surprising activity.

When I first moved to Barcelona I had the privilege of living in the suburb of Vallcarca, just next to Parc Güell, in a little street surrounded by Okupas (squatters). Perhaps I was almost the only paying neighbour there, it’s hard to know. But from our terrace it was always possible to see the Okupas, see inside “their” houses and their culture.

Essentially their practice is to enter into buildings that have been sealed closed by their owners while they await sale, demolition etc as part of property speculation and investor “gentrification” of areas. The Okupas connect electricity and water (illegally probably, but in the end for living purposes), they clean up and decorate. In my street they established a library that was open to the public and they regularly cleaned the streets in droves surrounded by their dogs. An outsider looking at them would just see dirty and/or dangerous punks and not really know what it is they are really doing. They wait outside the supermarkets to see what food they throw away at the end of the day and take it home. Many are drug free and organise concerts, speeches and distribute information. Sometimes I saw young business men with briefcases climbing through roughly cut holes in bricked up doorways on their way to work. The dissatisfaction with society runs deep, but the need to participate is often unavoidable, which is itself perhaps the problem. “No escape from society” as sung by Gang of Four.

Plaça Catalunya has become the same, a microcosm of this model where society can be created, just like anything else. Of course this means work and commitment, it means a foundation of ideas and direction. This also means alienation of those with opposing ideas. But here is “the illusion of democracy” (to quote Primal Scream) where there is no alternative, no choice of participation. Clearly the men upstairs have been getting it wrong as we cannot seem to find a way to slow down, to make a system that is equal and sustainable. The last words of the video I took are in Catalan and from, ironically, a massive billboard promoting the Barça football team and overlooking the square. Perhaps unintended, but “Volem mes” (We want more) somehow seems an appropriate principle for the people, despite its double edged consumerist meaning.

Perhaps saddest of all was despite the victory of truly one of the greatest football teams ever, they decided to attend the day after the concert of Shakira (the girlfriend of central defender Gerard Pique), oblivious one wonders to the police preventing their fans walking the streets and celebrating in the usual tradition, and oblivious to their people who are chronically unemployed, deeply disaffected and working for change. An offering of support seems a world too far despite the fact that the revolution is taking place beneath their banner and with their words.

Here is a strange mix of Mary Antoinette and Leed's Gang of Four and their track "Natural's not in it" from 1979.

"The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest
I do love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
Remember Lot's wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the bourgeois life
This heaven gives me migraine

Coercion of the senses
We are not so gullible
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attatched
Fornication makes you happy
No escape from society
Natural is not in it
Your relations are of power
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attached"

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