A quiet life in Sants

"It's not just for Can Vies, its against capitalism" Mural near CanVies
"Now its up to us. they've ignited the rage on the streets".  Poster that popped up everywhere after the riots.
“Now its up to us.
they’ve ignited the rage on the streets”. The aftermath of the riots.


It’s the little things that make life interesting. It’s the little things that I will remember most about living in Barcelona, the little things that would pass you by as a tourist. The little things like the way the gasman comes by every few days banging his gas bottle in the street so that you can lean out the window and yell at him if you need gas. Or the old man with the croaky voice who sometimes sets up a flower stall on the corner and spends all morning yelling in his croaky voice that he has flowers to sell. Or the way the rubbish truck comes in the middle of the night and spends half an hour making a huge racket as the truck lifts the giant recycling bins over its head and the bottom opens up allowing the items to smash into the truck below. Or the way fireworks go off every time Barcelona scores a goal in the football. The way I know what time it is in my sleepy morning haze by the school bell outside ringing around 9am and the sound of the children playing in the yard. Or the way you are forced to slow down. Something so beautiful about Spain is that it seems built into the culture not to rush. Things close down between 2 and 5pm and the streets are empty, and then suddenly everyone is out again in the evening. Where cafes back home would be buzzing at 10am, here they remain empty and barely open, but in the evening they are packed and alive. In the metro, people stand on the escalators, almost no one will walk up them, why bother? What’s the rush? It is the same in the long underground metro tunnels and on the streets, if you’re in a rush you will become frustrated very quickly as no one else is! And you’d better not be in a hurry in the shops either. Even if there is a queue of ten people, that won’t stop the person being served from having an in depth conversation with the cashier.

A supposedly quiet street in Sants

I arrived in Barcelona to the cold wintry days of early March, the trees were mostly bare and only the early cherry blossoms gave an inkling that spring had started. We moved into an area known as Sants, a small, sunny, third floor flat in an apparently quiet street lined by kurrajong trees – a common tree in the Australian desert! All I wanted when I arrived was to rest and rejuvenate. In the first week we were surprised to find our street filled with a noisy parade for some festival of the Saints (Sants). And while we are a 40-50 minute walk or a 10 minute metro ride to the tourist centre of Barcelona, we have never had to go far for much entertainment. A short walk away, the famous Magic Fountain of Montjuic always makes for good weekend entertainment with its brilliant array of colours and ever changing music that makes it dance. Wandering just a block or two away we have come across swing dancing in our local Plaça d’Osca, Roman festivals in the street, and the famous Catalan Castellers making their human towers to the sound of live musicians egging them on. Sharing a table with some locals one day, they informed us that this is the real Barcelona, where the locals live, this is Catalunya. Other days, we have only to go out onto the patio and look down to watch three or four bands of walking drummers banging out their catchy rhythms. These times are the loveliest, as suddenly all the tiny balconies or patios in the streets are filled with people and you can see who your many neighbours are.

Catalan Castellers in Placa d'Osca
Catalan Castellers (human castle makers) in Placa d’Osca
Swing dancing in Placa d'Osca
Swing dancing in Placa d’Osca

The most interesting time however was during the riots. When a transport company evicted a building that had housed an active, well loved and popular community (Can Vies) that had lived and interacted with the public positively for 17 years, and started to demolish the building, the barrio of Sants went up in arms! For three nights sleep was impossible, not for the rioters, but for the helicopters flying over our heads all night. Solidarity is so beautiful. People were ringing in complaining not of the protests, but of the helicopters! Bins were burned in the streets.  The bulldozer was burned. The violence was directed and specific, not at the public, but at the institutions – bank machines were smashed, the windows of KFC shattered, but no private businesses or homes were touched. Our street was barricaded using the giant street bins so that the ‘mossos’ or police troopers could not get their vehicles through in the event of a chase. Cities such as Girona, 100kms away held protests in support of Can Vies. Hundreds of extra riot police were shipped into Barcelona from Madrid. Each evening the streets were lined with riot police vans ready for another sleepless night. On the second and third nights, the protests spread from the suburb of Sants across the city of Barcelona. But the real power of solidarity for me was in the streets during the riots. One night, helicopters zooming around us preventing sleep, something triggered action in our street, we headed out to our balcony to watch and the air was electric. People were gently strumming saucepans – calmly but constantly in a non verbal show of support, it grew and grew as more people joined in until the streets were filled with the tapping of hundreds of saucepans.  I encourage you to check it out at:  http://youtu.be/IVzzV5D9bL0.  This was not an isolated event and is known as Casserolada (casserolas are saucepans).  I would love to know where this tradition comes from and how old it is. Old and young alike were doing it and we had seen it the day before a few streets away in protest against the actions of the riot police.

"if Can Vies falls to the ground, suburbs at war!"
“if Can Vies falls to the ground, suburbs at war!”
"It's not just for Can Vies, its against capitalism" Mural near CanVies
“It’s not just for Can Vies, its against capitalism”
Mural near CanVies
"Solidarity with Can Vies, if they touch Can Vies, they touch us all"
“Solidarity with Can Vies, if they touch Can Vies, they touch us all”
Can Vies riots "the anti-system/institutional anger takes over in Barcelona"
Can Vies riots “the anti-system anger takes over in Barcelona”
Semi demolished Can Vies, now remains standing but abandoned.
Semi demolished Can Vies, now remains standing but abandoned.
The abandoned Can Vies leaves a message: "We don't have the ruins, but we arrive at a new world"
The abandoned Can Vies leaves a message: “We don’t have the ruins, but we arrive at a new world”

Now the trees are green with summer flowers, the weather has warmed up and trips out of town to the beach are on the agenda. In my final week in Barcelona, I am treated to a school concert below. The flat overlooks a school basketball court, and for the last few days rather than hearing the school bell at 9am, we’ve been treated to loud dance music as the performers practice. Today at 9am, the parents arrive and the basketball court is lined with parents and students alike, and then all the years perform dances as the swallows duck and dive above them and I can feel change in the air. In the evening the school has an incredibly loud dance party complete with an elaborate fireworks display in the basketball court below. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to fireworks in my life. Following that, the whole of Barcelona erupts with the summer solstice festival of St. Joan, in which bonfires and fireworks are lit all over the city and street parties abound. The metro runs all night, and the day after is a public holiday so that everyone can recover. Life here in Sants has not been dull, and anything but quiet, but it has been restful and enlightening just the same.

School performance below

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