Posted by: martinworster | March 8, 2005

29. EL BARRIO

Old people, dog shit, cockroaches, spit, pregnant teenagers, the smell of sea and fish…welcome to my neighbourhood

 Narrow streets covered in dog shit, gruff voiced old age pensioners who stink of piss, Morroccans hanging on the street corners hissing and whistling at girls, the smell of the Mediterranean wafting down the alleyways. Mi barrio – neighbourhood – is Barcelonetta which was originally the old fishing village part of Barcelona and now has a curious mix of immigrants (Northern European like myself plus those from more far flung places, Morocco, South America). It’s a pretty vibrant place and it being the Mediterranean people live outside more. Old men smoke and swap tales on benches or over a game of Boulles in the park. Boulles, another French influence to Catalunya like the patisseries selling chocolate croissants and crusty baguettes. Old women gossip as they hang out thier washing. Younger girls preen and flirt on the sea front. Drunks fall out of local bars hollering in that typcial Spanish accent, deep, gruff, raspy from years of cigarette smoke, like the cliche of a Mexican in a cowboy film; ‘Hey amigo, que pasa?’

Life isn’t bad here. In two minutes I’m on the beach, which until early June is just about bareable but after that its becomes one heaving field of burning flesh, ponging of Marlborlo Lights, Pis Buin, whilst English, Dutch and Scandanavian accents enter the audio soup. I’ve been lucky as right where I live is a little surf break which, when there’s a swell here (about twice a month in Spring, Winter and Autumn) churns out some semi decent waves. In summer its flat as a pancake, like some dirty minging suburban pond with oil patches on top and god knows what else underneath.

My street is always noisy. As part of the gentrifiation process lots of apartment blocks are being ripped out and gutted to make way for smarter condo types with video entry phones and chrome kitchens. It’s an interesting process, the cliche of renewal so often associated with Barcelona when you read in the guides to the city.

There are a lot of older residents here who watch the change with equal measures of fascination, trepidation and hostility as the area changes. We live in a small apartment. Opposite lives an older man (mid-sixties) and his wife. The wifes nice but the blokes grumpy. I hear him wheezing every morning and he doens’t sound very healthy. You think it would be a good anti-smoking advert but it hasn’t worked for me. Nuts. Below us lives his older – 80s – sister who is always moaning at something. And she stinks. When her door opens the whole hall stinks of, well, I’m not even going to say, I’m sure your imagination can conjure up a rank smell of stale piss, sweat and unwashed body parts. Nice. She moans at us about noise, of which I am innocent to. I’d like to moan at her for the stench which is much more intrusive.

I’m painting a bad picture of getting old here which isn’t entirely true. From what I can see the platitudes about the Mediterranean way of life and diet ring true. All that olive oil and fish is good for them joints, judging by the healthy silver tops I see jaunting up and down the beach promendade on bicycles and rollerblades, not to mention those front crawling in the sea. The not so active ones play dominoes, maybe boulles, or just read the papers, chat and watch the sunset over another apparently perfect day. I am painting an over romantic picture. From every fit and able blue rinse there are probably ten hidden away behind close doors, incapacitated and forgotten by the normally binding Hispanic instiution the family.

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