The Duality of Barcelona

Meditarranean beaches, exquisite gastronomy, great weather all year round, fantastic architecture and richness in culture – do you fancy a visit?

Yes, this is Barcelona, the diverse city, where everyone wants to live or at least visit. But is it that good for everyone? Not really.

Although Barcelona is amazing for tourists, some locals complain that Barcelona’s council cares more about keeping tourists happy and coming back, than about the local residents.

Every night the council hoses the streets clean with water, “to keep the city clean for the next day,” says the council. But according to anthropologist Andres Pera, “they wet the sidewalks to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.

“It is a bad way of tackling this issue. Why don’t they try to find them a place to live instead of preventing them from sleeping in the only place they have?”

Barcelona also has a problem of human trafficking. People are brought from Eastern Europe, China and Africa to work in prostitution or in terrible working conditions. Walking through Barcelona even during daylight you can see women offering themselves for prostitution, proving how good the business is. Not many people seem to notice them.

According to a CNN report, human trafficking is facilitated by the tourism industry. First, because vacationers are among the main clients of prostitution; secondly, many of these people are brought to Barcelona under a tourist visa.

To know a place is not only about going to its museums and famous landmarks. It is also about knowing the reality of the place, the way everyday people live. Like a square in a common neighbourhood. Like the beautiful and authentic Barcelona neighbourhood of Gracia.

Another clear example of the duality of Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia or Sacred Family church, which was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. The Sagrada Familia has two opposite faces.

One side represents the Nativity: The stone is white and the sculptures are polished and modern. The opposite side represents the passion and death of Jesus Christ; it is dark grey, gothic, and resembles melted wax.

One street bordering the Sagrada Familia was closed, with activities for young and old. Rosa Cebra explained what was going on: “The Group for Multicultural Interaction is celebrating a week of integration. There are activities for every one to come and participate while integrating with the community.

“This year the Barcelona council has a campaign called ‘No rumours, thank you’. We are spreading the word about this campaign.”

I asked her what that campaign meant. She replied: “This campaign aims to end the rumours that are passed from one person to the other and that are not true, but that cause a lot of damage to Barcelona’s society.”

When I heard this, the first thing I thought of was the story about the council wetting the streets to stop homeless people from sleeping there.

The Plaza Gaudí is a park in front of the Passion façade of the Sagrada Familia. At one end of the park were several old men playing “petanca”, a kind of outdoor bowling game that only the third age seemed to be interested in. On a notice board between the two courts was a picture and a short caption of the winner of this and last year’s petanca tourney, Lucia Ventosa. Suddenly a man approached me to ask what I wanted. I explained that I was just reading about Mrs Ventosa, to which the man replied: “she is my wife.”

The man is Mariano Lopez, 70. He explained that petanca is a French sport played by people of all ages. “Tourists sometimes get the impression that only old people play petanca. But the reason is that since we are retired we can come and play any time of the day.”

After a while, when Lopez realized that he could trust me, he surprised me by saying: “I approached you and asked you what you wanted because next Sunday there is a tourney here and I thought that you were from the opposite team who came to spy on us.”

In every park of there were retired men playing petanca, chess, dominoes or checkers; with such a great weather, parks are the perfect meeting point in Barcelona.

One example is the green zone on either side of the Paseo del Triunfo (Walk of Triumph) just past the Arc of Triumph, built by Franco after the civil war. Here a group of five men were playing a board game and on the other side where others were playing petanca – perhaps the opponents of the petanca team from Plaza Gaudí.

Across the street from the Walk of Triumph is the Ciutatela Park, a huge park containing the zoo of Barcelona. Outside the zoo some campaigners were gathered asking for the release of the animals because according to them “a zoo to an animal is equal to a life sentence to a criminal.”

From the Ciutatela Park and zoo, La Barceloneta beach isn’t very far away. You can take a bus or even walk, which is advisable as you will pass through the hip neighbourhood El Born.

The Barcelona city centre is easily walkable. From the beach you can get to the statue of Simon Bolivar and then walk up through the famous Ramblas (a pedestrian commercial district).

Near the main Ramblas is the similar but smaller, less congested Ramblas del Raval. Here there is another example of the duality of Barcelona: Directly opposite a luxurious five-star hotel there is a squatter house inhabited by 14 buskers. They have created a community group called Barrilonia Social Centre.

One of the squatters is Martin, no last name given, who explained their use of the house: “Everything we earn from our music in reinvested in the house. We use this house as a community hub for everyone to come whenever they want to. We hold workshops on bicycle repair, percussion and chess.”

Nudism in Barcelona

A law that prohibits nudism in Barcelona’s beaches and public spaces came into force on 29 April 2011.

Any tourist or local who fails to follow this law will receive a warning and has to dress immediately. If the person fails to dress the punishment is a fine that could range between 120 and 500 Euros (£105 – £450).

Joaquim Plana, president of the Catalan Naturism Club, said “nudism is a right and people should be able to choose. It is a shame that it is forbidden as it is an emblem of Barcelona.”

The Spanish Federation of Naturism, FEN, sued the council of Barcelona asking for the removal of this prohibition, on July 13.

Nudism has caused a lot of controversy in Barcelona. There are two opposite sides to the debate. The naturist society defends nudism arguing that it is a right and that it doesn’t hurt anyone. Others, such as the mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, disagree: “While it is acceptable to practise nudism in some spaces, like nudist beaches, it is not acceptable to have naked people walking around the streets.”

It all began in 2005 with the draft of a city ordinance called “Convivencia Ciudadana” (Peaceful Coexistence), with an article stipulating that nudism in Barcelona was forbidden. This triggered outrage from naturists and human rights defenders who argue that the decision of what to wear was personal and that it has nothing to do with the law.

The council decided to remove the ban on nudism from the ordinance and by doing that it was inferred that nudity was legal. The Ordinance of Peaceful Coexistence finally came into force in January 24, 2006.

“That day everyone was so happy; my friends and I went completely naked around the streets of Barcelona, celebrating the apparent legality of nudism,” said anthropologist Joan Roura.

Since then there has been a lot of debate around this issue. In 2010 there were plans to introduce some amendments to the ordinance of Peaceful Coexistence.

Those who were against nudity in public spaces took advantage of the opportunity by adding an amendment banning nudism in all public spaces.

The division extended to regional and national politicians, as some like Jordi Portabella, the leader of the ERC party, argued that the council of Barcelona “have more serious problems, like the economic crisis and its effects on our citizens, to be worrying about how people should dress.”

The spokeswoman of the republican party, Ester Capella, said that it was pointless to add this amendment to the ordinance as no more than three people practise nudity in the streets of Barcelona.

Joan Roura added: “during the years that nudism was ‘legal’, not many people walked naked on the streets. Some did, of course, but most people dressed normally and kept their nudity to the beach.”

Roura added, “There is one particular nudist who is well known in Barcelona. Everyone calls him ‘The Tripod’. He has many tattoos and a piercing hanging off his penis. Whenever he walks the streets everyone stops to look at him and take pictures because he is impossible to ignore.”

The Tripod’s real name is Esteban (no last name given for privacy reasons). At 67, he is the most famous nudist of Barcelona. In 2007 he was fined 80 Euros for public nudity. Esteban ignored the orders of the urban guard to get dressed and the guards filed a charge for contempt.

The judge’s sentence said: “The defendant mistakenly thought that only he has rights, in this case of walking completely naked, ignoring that the rest of the public also has the right not to see him naked.”

The new law not only states that it is forbidden to practice nudism in public spaces but also to practice semi-nudism, which means that it is not allowed to be bare-chested in public spaces.

On this matter Roura said: “this is very silly as this is a coastal city, you expect people to walk bare-chested.

“After this law came into force the urban guard has had to stop joggers to ask them to put their shirt on. On sunny days the urban guard has to compel people taking the sun in a park to get fully dressed.”