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.”

The Dalí Triangle

Egg-headed sculptures, optical illusions, a caged cricket, classic Greek statues with baguettes on their heads, an upside-down boat; all these and many more eccentricities you will find while travelling the Dalí Triangle.

The Dalí Triangle is a circuit of three towns in Catalonia, visiting three houses of the surreal artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).

The unconventional personality of Dalí is reflected in these houses, located in Figueres, Port Lligat and Púbol, now made into museums. All three are worth visiting not only for their locations but because they inspire creativity.

“Before I came here I didn’t even like Dalí’s art, but now I have to admit that being here has changed my mind. He was absolutely crazy,” said a tourist outside the Museum-Theatre Dalí in Figueres.

The Museum-Theatre Dalí located in the small town Figueres is the most known and visited museum of Dalí, probably because it is the closest one to Barcelona. Many people outside the museum were not aware of the existence of the other two museums in Port Lligat and Púbol.

This museum in Figueres was built under Dali’s instructions and his remains are buried here. There is always a big queue outside the museum, but there are plenty of things to see from the outside that will keep you busy while queuing.

This museum features most of the paintings of the artist, plus an impressive section displaying Dalí-designed jewellery.

The second stop of the triangle is The House-Museum SalvadorDalí located near Cadaqués, a Mediterranean town where many wealthy people from inland Catalonia have a holiday house.

Located on a small peninsula, Cadaqués is a paradise where many artists —not just Dalí; also Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró— have lived or visited for extended periods of time.

The house-museum is in Port Lligat, a 15 minute walk from Cadaqués. The path goes past fields full of olive trees and the Mediterranean Sea appears in view from time to time.

There are many cats all over the place and mysterious tuna served for them by the roadside.  This made me wonder who owned and fed the cats. The mystery was solved when I saw a man in the act. He explained: “I love cats, they are the cats of Cadaqués and I always feed them. Many other locals do it as well.” The man was also on his way to the Dalí museum as he worked there.

The House-Museum is the house where Dalí used to live with his wife and muse Gala until 1982[i] when she died. That same year Dalí left the house and never came back.

The house is small, compared to the other two museums, but its size gives it a special intimacy. You get to see the couple’s bedroom, their big cage for birds and the small one for a cricket (they liked the sound of crickets so much that they had one in their bedroom).

To visit this museum you must book in advance as they only let 10 people in every 30 minutes.

Outside this museum I met Arturo Caminada, who owns a boat that, he says, belonged to Gala and Dalí, who then gave it to him as a gift. Arturo explained that he worked for Gala and Dalí for 40 years and now his daughter works in the museum and his son takes tourists to the Natural Park Cap de Creus in the boat. Meanwhile Arturo likes to sit back and talk to the museum visitors.

The last visit in this triangle is the House-Museum Gala Dalí Castle. This museum is a XI century castle in medieval style, located in the town of Púbol. This museum displays furniture designed by Dalí. The house was a gift from Dalí to his wife Gala, to fulfil his promise of making her queen of a castle.

There is a distance of 40 kilometres from one museum to the next, so two days are necessary to visit all of them. Although you will find Cadaqués so beautiful that you may want to stay there longer, as I did.


[i] Gala Dalí. La Vida Secreta: Diario Inedito. Editorial Galaxia Gutenberg.