Monday, 29 August 2011

What the locals say

What do the locals do to keep cool in this heat? Some stay in their apartments in their underclothes and emerge occasionally to lean on the balcony and look down onto the street. Many go to the beach. There are several stretches of beach heading north along the city's coast. Yesterday I left home early and was at the Marina end of Barceloneta beach by 9am. It's one of the nicest times to be there as it's practically deserted, save a few leathery abuelos out for a swim and some gentle stretching. I'd been there for about an hour when two regulars arrived and settled down a few feet away from me. They were both women in their late 60s and they seemed to know lots of other people on the beach. They talked constantly, to each other and to the people around them. I tried to concentrate on the book I was reading but eventually closed it and rolled over. The women had started to talk (very loudly) about immigration and their opinions about some of the newcomers in their neighbourhood. The Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis, they agreed, were hardworking ,decent people. Various (flimsy) anecdotes to support this opinion were shared. They also had nice things to say about some Venezuelans living on their block. Peruvians, however, and Africans, oh, they were totally different. I'd rather not repeat what the women said, but it was not complimentary. Some of what was said did not surprise me, given the women’s generation and the fact that there is still a lot of suspicion and ignorance around immigrants here, despite optimistic campaigns by local government to encourage harmonious living. Time will tell how Barcelona's increasingly diverse population gels together, or not.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Destination: BCN

The long queues for the tour bus started in early March this year, and the number of visitors exploded in June turning certain streets in the city into places to avoid if you're in any kind of hurry. Suddenly there are endless coaches trailing up and down the hills and pinkish, confused looking people moving at a snail's pace along the pavements. I write this with no contempt for them - as a fairly pink and occasionally confused looking person I am often assumed to be a tourist, when I’m in the centre of town anyway. Tourism is the main industry here, and thousands of people depend on the income it generates. However, I can see the volume of visitors starting to change the feel of parts of the old town. Family run specialist shops tucked down alleyways are slowly being replaced by frozen yoghurt cafes and shops renting scooters. Whole apartment blocks in formerly residential areas are being acquired by developers to be turned into boutique hotels. I've heard people talking about the Barcelona 'brand'- marketing based, among other things, on the city's creativity, history, ability to reinvent itself. The word 'brand' here makes me uneasy, not least because sooner or later it might leave residents feeling like they're living in a theme park. If the visitors are sold a certain image of the place, they'll expect to find it, and aspects of the culture that don't fit into that globalised image could be neglected.