Barcelona August 18th, 2013 2:47am
Though I did miss theatre season here in Barcelona, I am here just in time for 'La Fiesta de Gracia!"
There is a part of Barcelona called "Gracia," which until a couple of hundred years ago was a separate village, outside the walls of Barcelona. Which means that it, too, has the narrow, crooked streets of the oldest part of Barcelona. A working-class district for centuries, more recently Gracia has become the home to thousands of one filled with artists - painters, dancers, sculptors, and among others Teatro Almiera (which will be producing 1984.) It's not like any neighborhood in San Francisco because it's not that one cool street or few artsy blocks; this is dozens of tightly-packed blocks filled with art and politics and people who revel in both. And for one week each year they have a festival that puts anything we do back home to shame!
First, as I said, this is dozens and dozens of streets, most of which close off for the Festival. So imagine all of SOMA - but with three times as many alleys and narrow streets - closed to most cars. For a week. Now imagine about twenty stages set up in plazas and blocking streets through out the area, with band and singers and poets performing everything from "Old Macdonald had a farm" sing-a-longs to gypsy rock to spoken word to anarchist heavy metal. Until about three in the morning.
Oh, and the coolest thing; The denizens of each street compete with neighboring streets in regards to the decorations of their street! And I don't mean just bunting and lights. The people that live on each street spend a year communally designing and building amazingly themed decorations. They don't just decorate their own houses, they work together to build art installations that fill the entire street. For instance one street was dedicated to writing, so there was a giant typewriter, and paper mache letters strung overhead. There were scrolls with news articles, giant wooden typesetting letters, and a place where you could make paper. And a rock band. Another was dedicated to aliens, with giant golden space spiders and flying saucers. Another was dinosaurs - which were huge and beautiful. And while some of the decorations are very elaborate they are all made by the people who live on the street, and are not to be very expensive. It's not a competition of how much you can spend, or who can hire the best designer or crew, it's a celebration of the imagination, ingenuity, and amazingness of the people who live right there.
Since it goes on all week I've been over there a few times, seeing different streets each time. Last night I found a street totally dedicated to the independence of Catalunya. Everything was red and yellow, and there were stalls selling whatever you wanted that promoted independence - except Frisbees. They should work on that. MOst of the themed streets don't have selling stalls at all, so this one was very different. Next year is the 300th anniversary of the last Spanish conquest of Catalunya, so the people here are planning quite a few commemorations - like a human chain all along their border with Spain. Thousands of people holding hands as a sign of the independence movement. Catalunya has always had a separate culture, and a very distinct history, from the first Roman invasion to the independent and very influential Duchy of Catalunya in the Middle Ages to the wars with France, and right down to the separatist Catalunyian government's fight during the Civil War. Not a few of the people here expect next year to be the year they finally break off from Spain again, and become the newest nation in Europe. My host, Lluis-Anton is very sure that something big is going to happen next October because of the anniversary of the Conquest (though he says if it doesn't it will happen in the next 10 years), but one way or another his son will grow up in an independent Catalunya.
As I was wondering the streets I came upon a flag waving, marching brass rock band parade. They were dancing down the twisting street with quite a following. What was exceptionally cool was they were anarchists and communists. Periodically they would stop, and the guy dressed like a ring-master would stop and make a speech - in Catalan. But I think he was talking about the gentrification of Gracia, and how the workers were being pushed out. (Clearly a problem everywhere workers think they have something they can call there own.) Then the band would strike up, and start off again. Firstly the band was very, very good. This was not a group of people who manage to get through songs while we, the audience, are supposed to be nostalgically entertained with revolutionary songs of our parents or grandparents marches. Instead they played the theme from "Ghostbusters." They played the hell out of "Billie Jean." Thy played some song that's a hit now that I don't know that name of. They were there to whip up and entertain the crowd, not give us a history lesson in revolutionary tunes. Don't get me wrong, I like a rousing tune from the Spanish Civil War as much as the next revolutionary, but if the crowd you are trying to inspire feels guilty because they don't recognize song after song you are so earnestly playing for them they will feel alienated and move on.
But this band lead us all the way to the performance square dedicated to the anarchist bands. I have to admit I didn't last as long as I would have liked, but the first band were a very heavy metal communists, and I had no idea what they were screaming about. But the crowd was into it, so I guess they were good.
Oh, I also saw an excellent Gypsy band! Guitar, clarinet, upright bass, accordion, violin, vocalist. Listening to and watching them was a serious musical highlight.
And finally yesterday I found the perfect time to go to the beach in Barcelona! It's after a late-night bike ride! I left the Fiesta, grabbed one of the bike-share bikes they have all around the city, and rode across town to the normally packed beach... and while there were still lots of people out there it was a hundred rather than ten thousand, so I could calmly put my toes in the Mediterranean for the first time! (I know, I've been to Israel and Egypt, but somehow I missed actually getting in the water.) So I sat there for a while, working on the opening speech of another play I'me writing, and thanked the Gods - and my Indiegogo - supporters that I get to have this amazing experience.