Saturday, 6 February 2010


Despite a concerted effort to track down navajas (razor clams) in Barcelona I failed. Not that this should be the basis on which to judge a city - undoubtedly they were on the menus of restaurants I walked past, it is just that I never found them.
Despite that I enjoyed some great meals there - pulpo (octopus), calamares (squid), gambas (prawns) and bacalao (Basque-style salted cod). Some good Catalan wine as well.
Barcelona is an easy city to navigate around and after three days I felt I had sussed out its lay out. La Rambla which runs from Placa Catalunya down to the city's port is as good a place as any to start. It is a great people watching stroll favoured by both tourists and residents alike.
A few steps away into one of the side streets can take you into a contemporary shopping centre or else in cobbled alleyway with Tabac shops, cafes, crumbling churches and private residences.
Closer to the harbour the streets become slightly more tacky, with sex shops and an occasional street walker lurking in a darkened alleyway. It is the territory of Almodovar's Todo Sobre Mi Madre and the novels of Manuel Vazquez Montalban (Offide being the novel of choice to accompany me on this visit).
Last week I watched Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona to put me in the mood for my visit. The film seemed to be partly funded by the Barcelona tourist board as a showcase for the city's delights. Woody had clearly been watching a few Almodovar movies before he shot this. While I'm a fan Allen's movie came across as cloying and derivative - check out the scene where the Vicky and Juan Antonio are watching the guitarist and compare it to the scene where Caetano Veloso sing Cucurrucucu Paloma in Almodovar's Hable con ella.
I also found VCB to be glaringly naive, one of the character's, Vicky goes to Barcelona and raves on about studying Catalan culture, yet she can't even speak Castellano, never mind Catalan but somehow manages to spend lots of times perusing books in libraries.
Despite its artistic pretentions it is an enjoyable movie but one in which all the main actors are totally overshadowed by the performance of Penelope Cruz.
She also starred in Todo Sobre Mi Madre, playing a nun who falls pregnant to a Aids-infected, transexual prostitute. Other characters are a single mother whose only child has been run down and a stage actress who is obsessed with her drug-addled lesbian lover. Can't see Woody tackling this somehow.
It gives only a passing nod to Barcelona's more iconic locations, a brief scene outside the Gaudi cathedral - which features regularly in VCB. Infact it could have been set anywhere as the location is superflous to its dark story of a woman coming to terms with her own grief, by reluctantly becoming a source of comfort to others.
I'm still reading Offside, the fourth Montalban novel I have in my collection, but it was interesting to find myself at the start of the week wandering down the streets where his fictional detective Pepe Carvalho had been a few hours earlier as I read the first few chapters on the plane. Review to follow.
I also picked up a new novel while I was there - La piel fría (Cold Skin - originally written in Catalan and published as La pell fida) by Albert Sánchez Piñol, a novelist from Barcelona. Its main protagonists is an Irishman (a former IRA member) who is working for a scientific expedition in the Antarctic and who ends up confronting killer aliens. There is a psychological undercurrent to this sci-fi story which at first glance I can get the gist of but which will probably take a lot of cross-referencing with my dictionary to get all its nuances. There is an English language translation, but apparently it expunges all references to the central character's Irishness.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Not quite the ex-IRA man in Antarctica, but have you read Robert Hughes' "Barcelona"? Massive travelogue; I started "The Fatal Shore" decades ago and liked it, but never finished it. Enjoy your stay.