Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Summer 2011: Barcelona, Spain

July 23-27, 2011 -- Barcelona was the sixth and final city in Europe I visited by train before flying to Israel for a month.

The capital of Catalonia is a fiercely independent, vibrant, progressive place with loads of history. Barcelonians love their Barca football club, tasty tapas and pinchos, biking along the beach, and living life to its fullest. From Franco to the Olympics, this city has seen it all.

Speaking of those mouthwatering tapas. And yes, they taste as good as they look.

And the pinchos are just as tasty.

I have to give a hearty recommendation to Hostel One Paralelo. The location is amazing -- in a quiet residential area near the Olympic Village on Montjuic and an easy walk to La Rambla. The gracious hosts cook a free dinner for the guests every night. There is also a jacuzzi to relax in.

In light of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that have spread across the United States and around the world, it must be noted that last May the Indignant Movement in Spain began the first around-the-clock protest camps in cities and towns across the country. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the industrialized world at 21% overall and nearly 40% for young people under 30 years of age. Here is an Indignant protest banner in Barcelona.

I'm going to now try to explain the passion Barcelonians and Catalans have for their professional football club, FC Barcelona. The roots of the club, founded in 1899, run deep, much deeper than their recent success as the current European and Spanish champions, although that is a source of great pride.

But the bigger picture is that FC Barcelona is intertwined with the Catalan independence movement and the fight against Franco's fascist dictatorship. When Franco ruled Spain he attempted to impose Spanish nationalism upon Catalonia, which has a distinct language and culture. After the Spanish Civil War, these restrictions included banning the Catalan flag and prohibiting football clubs from using non-Spanish names. To this day, the Catalan flag is flown in defiance all over Barcelona.

Catalonians and Spaniards in general are just recently coming to terms with the Franco regime, which lasted from 1938 all the way to 1975. In 1938, the Germans and Italians provided air support to Franco during a bombing raid of Barcelona. During the aerial bombardment, a bomb struck the offices of FC Barcelona. But more devastating was a bombing campaign earlier in the year that killed 42 people, mostly children, who where hiding in the Church of San Felipi Neri. In 2007, there was finally a memorial plaque installed remembering this horrific act at the hands of Franco and his collaborators.

Knowing the history of Barcelona's football club and its ties to Catalan independence and the resistance to the Franco regime, it is easy to understand the team's slogan --  mes que un club, more than a club. Here is a picture of me in front of Barcelona's home field since 1957, Camp Nou. With a capacity of 99,354 it is the largest stadium in Europe.

Now that bullfighting has been banned in northeastern Spain, going to an FC Barcelona match is really the best way to get to know the sporting passions of Catalonians.

Besides the brutality of the Franco regime, there is another shameful period in the history of Spain I'd be remiss not to mention, and it is not even the Inquisition. The 1391 pogroms against the Jews across Spain resulted in some 300 Jewish deaths in Barcelona when the Jewish Quarter was attacked and destroyed. In the years following the massacre, the Jewish cemetery on Montjuic (Jew Hill) was ransacked and the Hebrew-inscribed headstones were pilfered and used to help construct many buildings in the Gothic Quarter, especially at Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace). This is a stolen Jewish gravestone on the wall of the Palau del Lloctinent (Viceroys' Palace).

From Joan Miro to Pablo Picasso to Antoni Gaudi, so many genius artists and architects have left their mark on this city. But the most impressive and wondrous structure I've ever come across has to be Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece -- the Sagrada Familia. It is breathtaking up close. Every perspective reveals new details. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. It is a must see if you visit Barcelona

Click here for more observations of Barcelona on Green Center Blog.

Here are more photos of Barcelona. Click here to see the set on Flickr.

Here is video of a Barcelona street festival near the hostel.