Revolution Holiday: One Man’s Confusion in a Time of Politics

by Gregg LaGambina

Madrid.jpg
Travels in Barcelona
Exiting a hotel, travel duffel in hand, looking for a train, vacationing, you’d never expect to see the wildness of men in suits screaming down sidewalks, their neckties flapping behind them like the high-flown vinyl flags affixed to banana-seat bikes.

The women too, lunchtime and out in the sunlight, teetering and full-tilt, some stopping only to hop in place in two spots—dual pauses in their flight—removing each high-heeled shoe to end the hobbling and start the sprint.

The men armed with flailing briefcases. The women beclawed with designer pumps. Running away from the train station.

Taxis honk. Helicopter blades hack at the air. Then the explosions. This really sends the mad flight of midday workweek Barcelonans in all directions, the danger of the loud bangs liberating the mad dash from the sidewalks into the streets. All bets off. It is life or death. A mass run without pattern.

Then why is the hotel doorman smiling?

“They are just cleaning up the hippies for the football parade,” he says.

This revolution is inconvenient.

Last night, we were gulping olives. To call them “olives” is obscene.

We are at TICKETS in Barcelona, along Avinguda Paral-lel. The interior is somehow both Kubrick-ian and Fellini-esque, the go-to film directors for an easy out when you can’t quite figure out what to say about what you’re looking at. But here the comparison is apt. Part theater lobby, part carnival, carts roll by in red and white stripes, waiters and servers are outfitted in golden epaulets, hosts man thickly corded weaved ropes attached to brass poles. It is a very bright spot. Lit up like a film scene. We are extras at the fête. We will eat no less than 15 plates of half-portions of tapas. Each exquisite for having nothing in common with the last (apart from its exquisiteness).

Open for only a few months, this is the place where chef Albert Adrià will aim all of his art after the closing of El Bulli in August, the globally celebrated epicurean dream destination, famous for a lot of things, to Albert, maybe most of all for placing him in the long shadow of his more famous brother Ferran.

“It’s not funny,” says the younger Adrià. He has just bitten into what has been described to us as a kind of mini tuna burger. A slider, we conjecture silently. Judging by Adrià’s reaction, no one will ever know as it will never appear on any menu of his. “It is not funny enough,” he says again, pushing the plate away.

“Soon! Not never. Please not never,” he says smiling at the question of whether this tasting, refining, his tweaking of the offerings at his new venture will ever end, ever fully meet his standards.

He scampers off into the back, leaving us with Manel Vehi, a temporary translator for our brief interview, but actually a server who has followed Albert from El Bulli, elevating the role of waiter to a kind of art not often seen Stateside. Here is a young man in love with food, happy to be near it, at its mercy, smiling as he sees you smile when you gulp that olive. (So tawdry, not quite correct, this word: gulp.)

But that is what you do. It slides down a small silver spoon that cradles this invention as a shell might its oyster. You never really chew, you don’t bite, you move it around and before you can decide what to do, it vanishes. Its oliveness engulfing you like a mist, the Peter Pan green fairy tapping twice your forehead and disappearing quick like a dragonfly. That was no fucking olive. Gordal adobada. That’s what it says on the menu. Much more musical than “olive.” Gordal adobada. Yes, that’s much better.

Manel returns. Again and again. His charm never wanes. His slow, careful descriptions of each plate are words chosen with the deliberate exactitude of a tutor explicating a poem or a picture. Slices of tuna belly painted with Iberian cured ham fat. Quail eggs with migas d’almogrote. Here is an oyster, with an actual “pearl” made of the same air-infused magic that made the gordal vanish like the ace in a card trick. You eat the pearl. Ravioli liquid de fromatge gadita Payoyo. Does it matter what it means? The music of the words are barely enough to do battle with the taste. Navalles amb oli de gingebre, pebre de Caiena i aire de llimona. Air of lemon. Hot peppers transformed into gelatin. Asparagus arrives bathed in black truffle.

Gulping, chewing, sipping, savoring. In here, we forget all about those angry kids. The mob in Placa de Catalunya who smell of piss and shit, their tents verging on collapse near their makeshift vegetable gardens, the PA speaker feeding back, angry pronouncements whose only intelligible words are variations on “corruption.” Perhaps the better filmmaker to have recalled is Spain’s own Luis Buñuel. Our little pack, this not-so-discreet and currently charmed bourgeoisie, dabbing at our sated lips with a cloth emblazoned with the logo TICKETS.

Here we have a drunken wobbling man urinating into the shallow waters before the monument dedicated to Francesc Macià, one-time Catalonian President. His bust affixed to the concrete angular mass jutting high into the air at one end of the Plaça de Catalunya. It is plastered with signs now, decrying all kinds of injustice, perceived or real. Later, we’ll find out this giant sit-in has a name, the 15th of May Movement. “Yes We Camp” is one banner. There is anger at banks, Berlusconi, Obama, Sarkozy, the President of the Catalan Geralitat, Artur Mas, meat eaters, vivisectionists, polluters—all of them rolled into one mass to fling a kind of generalized displeasure toward. Near a shabby garden planted near a tent are the words “This Land is Our Land.”

Finished filling the fountain with his yellowy discharge, the man leans back and flings his bottle at a carved, eternally placid crouching nude in marble that hovers in the still water. It smashes across her forehead. The few who notice send up a cheer. A man is sprawled in the mud near a port-o-john. This is a revolution that rents floodlights, PA speakers, and a proper place to shit. Yet, never has discontent seemed so generalized. Maybe it’s just the barrier of language. But I doubt it. Show me the intersection where a bailed-out bank merges with the abuse of animals for medical research. (Besides here.)

In this park, a place made so famous by Orwell in his Homage to Catalonia, a place where real bullets flew (not these air guns we’ll hear in the morning, designed to make noise, create a scare, not a death) there was a real enemy: fascism. The end of all freedom, a thing to fight. Something Orwell took a bullet in the neck for. Maybe if I could ask one of the more articulate students, they’d tell me the enemy is still the same.

But we leave at the sight of the bottle smashing. The next morning, Interior Minister Felip Puig will order the removal of these young protesters. We find out later, not so much to bring an end to the sit-in, but to clear the area for the likely victory parade for Barca—the beloved Fútbol Club Barcelona—the heavy favorite in the following evening’s championship against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London. Preparations must be made for the team to march through here on the weekend. There will be no more of this sprawling discontent, this eyesore. (The reaction to this show of force will follow us to Madrid, where their own Puerta del Sol will become a display of equally kaleidoscopic frustration, a mixture of deeply felt idealism with others who have just found a reason to gather and get fucked up.)

It is the next morning—the traffic, the explosions from air guns—we wander in the direction where everyone is taking flight from. The laughing doorman has given us specific plans on how to get “underneath the hippies,” directing us to tunnels and a way to get to the train that will take us to Madrid. His laughter and seeming enjoyment at the repeated utterance of “hippies,” grants my group the courage to carry out his instructions. Soon we are back on schedule, smoothly sliding down the high-speed rails back into the center of Spain. Collapsing into seats, television screens come to life, headphones are passed around by the Renfe train staff. Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels begins. As the subtitles roll out, a young couple, Spaniards, begin to chuckle at it, watching, rapt. (Maybe this counts as fascism too?)

In Madrid, we decide to sniff around the Puerta del Sol. Chants of “Barcelona, you are not alone!” Tents, posters, flowers. Police vans stand idle at the ready, looking like hulking beasts waiting for permission to feed. The same disenchantment. Unemployment breeds contempt. The names of the enemies mostly the same. Though, here, in reaction to the events in Barcelona, the atmosphere is tilted in favor of nonviolence. Faces are painted with peace signs and posies. The monument to Charles III, gallant on horseback, peaks up out of the mess of banners, too high up to deface, staring down from a history where these meek uprisings would be easily quelled.

We are tourists now. We have forgotten to be travelers. The difference is in the movement. Never stop and stare. But, for a moment, I forget myself. I point my lens at a curiosity and snap-off a shot. The curiosity is a human being and I get the greeting I deserve. A shaky but determined flip of the middle finger. I am to fuck off. My shame wears off a bit as we scramble to a restaurant. Later that night, I will dream of that olive. That glorious gordal adobada. That wonderful bite I took out of a revolution I couldn’t be bothered to understand.

Yo soy una fascista.