Tuesday, April 12, 2011

la rambla...

A bustling street that stretches for approximately one kilometre in the heart of Barcelona. I arrived here yesterday, and it is just as I remember it, if not busier. I specifically requested a hotel room on La Rambla so I could watch the people with ease.

Day and night on La Rambla is a feast for the senses. There's always something to see, something to smell, something to hear. There are people from all over the world here, tourists and natives alike. However, the native Barcelonians are easy to spot, as they are the most vivacious, eager to please, entertain, and share with others what Barcelona means to them.

When starting the camino on La Rambla, you are immediately greeted by the sights of street performers. People who take the time to fully dress up as the character/personality of their choice, with elaborate make-up, to sit or stand for endless hours, mostly motionless, until one puts a coin in their receptacle - then they come to life.

There are some good ones, some bad, and some, quite pointless. There's a guy with his freakish head protruding from a table, accompanied by two other heads of a similar appearance, which he controls. He squeaks at you when you pass, appealing to you to come closer. He smiles, he leers, trying to flirt with you. When you get close enough, he scares you by lunging forward, or animating the heads of his two accomplices. He squeaks again, and even though no words are ever spoken, you completely understand what he wants... he wants money for his troubles. Some pay. Those who don't are squeaked at harshly and ridiculed in front of his audience. He's very popular... and highly entertaining.

Then, there's the guy in black - he looks like a cross between Rob Zombie, and Gene Simmons, except with more black on his face. Very impressive detail in his costume and make-up. He scares passers-by constantly. If you provide him with money, he'll pose for a photo with you. As his sponsors start to stand next him to prepare to have their photo taken, he grabs them, and turns their head in the way he'd like them to pose, spreads his black, bat wings and makes a monstrous pose, as if he were some vulture capturing his carrion in his talons for sustenance.

Then, there's Robot Man. Another hugely elaborate outfit, silver paint on his face, buttons and flashing lights all over his body. His gestures are robotic, he waves, he dances, he salutes, he shakes your hand, he beeps at you in approval when you drop a coin for him. He also likes to scare passers-by, particularly the females. He flirts too, mechanically so.

There's a dead Cleopatra, in Ancient Egyptian garb, but all in black. She sleeps, eyes closed, her fingers around an asp. Pay her and she'll wake from her coma, smile, caress you, and pose for pictures. When that's all over, she returns to her blissful state.

There's a hilarious baby girl in a pram. She squeaks, and demands money, having tantrums if you ignore her. Gurgling and gargling happily if you pay her. She throws her rattle at you if you pass by and not attend to her. She squeaks too, calling you over, demanding your attention.

So many performers, one could spend hours just watching each one for at least 10 minutes. So, you see, it may stretch for only a kilometre, but it takes a very long time to complete the distance, as there's so much to see and do.

Regular-looking people will surprise you by spontaneously bursting into song or performing a whole circus act, amassing a crowd almost instantaneously. One never knows what to expect on La Rambla. There's food everywhere, flower-sellers, illustrators who'll sketch a characterisation of you if you pose for a short amount of time. Some of the cafes and restuarants will set up chairs and tables along the sides of the street with waiters claiming to have the best sangria in Spain to accompany the best paella. It's a full-on fiesta, 24/7.

Then, there are the beggars and the not-so-well-to-do. Whilst pausing for a drink of water to re-hydrate in the unexpected heat I have been experiencing in Barcelona, I watched a group of black men, of African origin, I suspect, set up their wares. Drop-cloths were laid out on the ground, with rows and rows of sunglasses and handbags of various shapes and sizes. Attached to the corners of these drop-cloths were short ropes, which were carefully wound around the wrists of each vendor.

I couldn't help noticing this, and wondered what these ropes were for. I soon found out. After a few minutes of trying to entice potential buyers, a head would raise, on alert. It reminded me of a deer or a rabbit that suddenly sensed danger approaching. In a flash, the ropes were tugged at, the entire shop-front would disappear in a small bundle, and the vendor would hurriedly walk away before the police arrived.

Ahhh... illegals trying to survive on a few euros here and there. It made me sad to watch this going on. About ten minutes later, after the police had been and gone, the Africans returned, setting up their wares again.

When on the Rambla, you manage to mostly ignore the beggars, as there are so many people around to distract them from targetting you. The smarter ones approach you when you're queueing to enter a popular tourist attraction like a museum. You can't escape them there.

Yesterday morning, I was sitting at a bus stop, waiting for a Tourist information booth to open, and a small woman wearing a scarf and slippers approached me. She was hunched over, and held out a plastic cup to beg for a coin. She nodded at me softly, the expression on her face was heart-wrenching. She might have been an extremely good actress, but she gave me the impression that she had absolutely nothing in this world, and that a euro would have made the world of difference to her.

I could help myself. I gave all the coins I had, which amounted to about 4 euros. Her nodding grew more animated, she seemed so grateful for my paltry offering. She grabbed my hand and started to kiss it profusely, thanking me over and over again. This took me aback - I wasn't expecting such a reaction - something that seemed so meagre to me apparently meant the world to her. I stopped her kissing my hand gently, rubbed her consolingly on the arm and said the only thing I knew she would understand. "God bless you." I smiled, nodded as if it was ok, and wished her well. I watched as she wandered off slowly... to where? I have no idea. But that's just it - I don't know what goes on in her world, I can only imagine. What I imagine saddens me deeply and makes me feel so powerless in such a big world.

Here I was, queueing to get some tickets to a Spanish guitar show at the Palau Musica in Barcelona, ready to pay my 40 euros, and there was this slight old woman, immensely grateful for a few euros I had thrown into her plastic cup. It's these times that I pause for more profound thought and examination of my circumstances. Perhaps I should start to document such ponderings. I'm sure that it would greatly exceed one of my brief blog-posts.

I leave for Madrid on Friday, then on to Dubai and Melbourne. Before then, I have so much to see and do. La Sagrada Familia, Salvador Dali's house in Figueres, the Joan Miro and Picasso galleries, Parque Guell, La Pedrera, concerts and more Rambla watching is on the cards. I may post again one last time before leaving, or I may write a final post on the rest of my Barcelona experience when I return home. Time will tell.

Hasta la vista mis amigos!



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