Barcelona in early July 2010: pre-field notes
I’ve just got back to England from a second brief trip to Barcelona to prepare the family move there prior to the start of fieldwork from September. A few sketchy notes for future reference and possible amusement:
Sunday 11 July 2010, from 8 pm onwards, central Barcelona. Spain wins the World Cup and the entire city explodes in jubilation – or does it? Spanish flags everywhere, car horns at full blast, drunks using their flags as matador capes with incoming traffic, everybody celebrating…. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that most of those celebrating were locals and visitors of non-Catalan descent. Let’s not forget that the day before a huge march was held on these same streets in protest against the recent ruling from Spain’s Constitutional Court containing statements such as: ‘The Constitution does not recognize any other nation than the Spanish’. On that occasion the streets were full of Catalan not Spanish flags.
Tuesday 13 July 2010, midday. Chatting to local man, late 20s, in Spanish about this, that and the other. He’s of mixed Andalusian-Catalan parentage, born and bred in Barcelona. I explain I’m here to study how social/political activists use social media, if at all. He recommends I check out an Esquerra Republicana offshoot called Reagrupament who are very active users of social media (Esquerra Republicana is an old left-wing party that campaigns for independence from Spain). “Every day I get at least one or two messages from them”. Later that night I apply for membership of their Facebook group (I haven’t heard from them yet). My contact tells me they’re a cultural group at the moment but will morph into a political organisation as the elections approach. He also says I should read the 9 July issue of La Vanguardia where they lay out clearly the implications of the Constitutional Court ruling.
Wed 14 July 2010, circa 10 pm, Passeig de Gracia. Outdoor dinner at touristy terraza in the centre. Tall African man is selling handbags and sunglasses out of a blanket with strings attached. Business is good. He’s holding the strings at all times. Out of nowhere, three or four policemen (one of them in civvies) storm the spot and the African man legs it less than 10 feet away from me, almost knocking over a Spanish woman as he runs for his freedom. The woman’s male companion shouts out “Oye, pero que passsa gilipollas, que casi la tiras!!” (“Oi you wanker, what’s wrong with you?? You nearly knocked her over!!”). The African stops in his tracks and turns to the irate man. In broken Spanish he shouts something to the effect of: “What do you mean what’s wrong? Can’t you see?”, as he points towards the cops a mere 30 feet away, who seem far more interested in his merchandise than in him. The woman restrains her companion and the African man vanishes into the crowd. A few minutes later he returns to the same spot to complete a transaction elsewhere with a sun-tanned Nordic couple.
Thursday, 15 July 2010, circa 11.30 am, on the metro from Girona station to Poble Nou. A group of half a dozen local teenagers (aged 16-18?), both boys and girls, are heading for the beach – to judge by their towels. They’re speaking very loud Spanish. I can recall three topics of conversation: (a) relationships, (b) the cold drinks carried by one of them (one of them puts on the foreign accent of a street vendor of cold drinks, often seen along the Ramblas: “servesa fressca, servesa fressca”), (c) hairstyles. Later, on the same train, two late middle-aged men exchange views in Catalan on the paltry state of this language in Barcelona. One of them complains that just the other day he was stopped by a young man doing a survey who addressed him in Spanish and expected to deliver a questionnaire in Spanish.
Thursday, 15 July 2010, afternoon, somewhere in Barcelona. I ask a waiter if he can recommend a local barber and he suggests a Pakistani shop round the corner. The two young barbers are from India (Punjab and Kerala) – their boss from Pakistan. The Punjabi has lived here longer and speaks fairly good Spanish. The Keralan is a more recent arrival and his Spanish (like his English) is poor. They charge me five euros – good value.
General impressions (in no particular order, and merely anecdotal):
* Spanish is the first language of everyday public transactions (in bars, restaurants, public transport, hotels, etc.) and even conversation in central Barcelona. As you walk up towards the higher parts of town you hear more Catalan.
* Spain’s footballing triumph poses a problem, especially as most of the first team play for Barcelona. A lot of ambivalence and mixed feelings around – but not among the descendants of immigrants from other parts of Spain (and Latin America!) who were over the moon.
* A lot of Spanish-Catalan code-mixing and code-switching in everyday conversation.
* The Court ruling will have far-reaching implications throughout Catalonia’s political and activist landscape. Social media and mobiles, in addition to face-to-face meetings, are likely to be widely used in the coming months.
* A weak ruling party and opposition in Madrid, very high unemployment figures, and growing international concern about the state of the Spanish economy add to the volatile mix.