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Flexible Authority, That Kiss


Sagrada detail.jpg

Flexible Authority, That Kiss


Potbanging for Freedom

Barcelona, October 2017

Cynthia and I, with our neice Emma, visited the wonderful city of Barcelona just two months after 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub drove a van into pedestrians on La Rambla, killing 13 and injuring at least 130 others and two weeks after the Catalan independence referendum with its own attendant violence. Two weeks later, Carles Puigdemont would declare Catalunya a nation, then flee to Brussels.

"May you live in interesting times."

Our first day proved to be a very full one: part real, part surreal. We took Emma, to Gaudí’s beautiful, weird, wonderful and spectacular La Sagrada Familia.

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Though Cynthia and I have seen Gaudí's iconic Modernista classic many times over the last quarter-century, coming up from the Sagrada Familia Metro and seeing this amazing building still gives us a thrill.

Today, there was one thing we wanted Emma to see, apart from the general glory of the church: the small carving of a reptilian devil handing a terrorist a bomb, a piece created in the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War.  

This led to the first of our brushes with authority.

Apparently, during the current renovations the Audio Guide sales booth was moved to the area in front of the niche that holds the frieze.

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“No it’s not possible to visit there at the moment.” said the security guard. I said I thought that, at this particular moment in Catalan history, it might just be the single most important thing for Emma to see. The guard went to say something, then stopped, looked at me a second, gestured for me to wait, turned, and went inside. A few moments later, he returned with an usher. We were smiled at by both and escorted in for a private viewing.

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Then, we went to the main nave of Gaudí’s masterwork, Emma for the first time. I don't think there's a straight line in the place. Based on forms found in nature, the pillars twist and weave. Many accused Gaudí of creating a dangerous building... one with no structural integrity... one that would inevitably collapse. Recently, though, computer technology has vindicated Gaudí and his vision. La Sagrada Familia will stand the test of time.

There is a moment that I always watch for from close to the main entrance; I call it 'The Sagrada Jaw Drop". People flow in, generally chatting and animated. Then their eyes are drawn up to the light from the nave’s ceiling… and they stop. Transfixed. Then, their jaws literally drop, leaving them open-mouthed in awe.

It astonishes me how many do this.


Frequently, the next thing they do might be considered a little gauche. But look at this couple: hands raised in wonder, the iPhone held host-like. Are they not uplifted in that moment?

We had been told that if we wanted to see real Flamenco we should go to Le Rouge, a bar on the Rambla de Raval, an area we like a lot. The  photo does not come close to capturing the atmosphere of this small room, crowded with locals (we were, I believe, the only tourists there). There  was no cover charge, but a euro is added to the price of each drink during the performance, that euro going to the performers. The hat was also passed after the show. During the performance, Cynthia and I exchanged frequent delighted glances, calling genuinely excited olés along with the crowd.


Standing next to us was a couple  entranced as we were, by the extraordinary singing and dancing. One of them heard me whisper, “Wow,” in the silence at the end of one dance. He smiled and we chatted about the fine quality of this very small show. (My occasional Spanish and Catala words supplemented by his much better English). At the end of the performance, we chatted again. He told us that he is a policeman, “But today, I’m on my day off, so not today, today I am a lover of Flamenco.”

I asked him about the day of referendum violence. “Muy complicado,” he noted. I said that several cab drivers had said exactly  the same thing. He also said that he had found a way to do his duty, without attacking anyone. His partner arrived and swept him away.

A few seconds later, the Flamenco dancer came up to us, squeezed my arm, then kissed me on the cheek…  Apparently, overcome by the moment, I had donated a somewhat more than typical amount to the hat. 


A final surreal moment occurred while walking at sleepy time through the labyrinth of alleyways that surround the Rambla de Raval. There were few, if any lights on: the atmosphere a tad spooky.

The sound of something being struck, hard, came from just above us... then a second-storey light went on.  Another sound. Another light... within seconds the whole alley lit up and became cacophanus.

The 'caceroladas', following a tradition that began in the Middle Ages and has become a world-wide pot-and-pan banging form of both protest and praise, created a triumphant discordant coda for our very rich day.

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