Barcelona travel journal

A brief rundown of my recent trip to Barcelona. I've also uploaded a set of photos taken during the trip by Rick Jungers.

day one:
after 8 hours on a plane we land in Barcelona; I run in and get a transit map while Rick smokes a post-flight cigarette; we're talking about which bus to take and trying to figure out where at the airport the bus stops and the bus pulls up and stops right next to where we are standing. We rush, putting out half smoked cigarettes, and run to the bus which takes 15 min to depart.

35 minutes later, we are at la plaza catelonya, the top of las ramblas, which even at this early morning hour is a massive sea of humanity. The crowds are far more dense than nyc, but moving through them is hardly as difficult.

We drop our things at the hostel, can't check in till 2pm... there's some confusion about our reservations. We'll figure it out later.

We meet up with Mateo and I give him the camera that his friend gave me for him. he's very excited.

Mateo walks us to the CCCB where we meet up with my friend Joan. Joan was one of the organizers of the last conference I came to Barcelona to make a presentation at, (OVNI). The OVNI offices are at the CCCB in a beautiful old building.

Joan, true to the amazingly generous and friendly nature of Barcelona, left the CCCB to give us a tour of Barcelona. It was part fun, part death march. Along the way we saw part of the ruins of the city wall built by the Roman Empire; the hotel that used to be the Nazi headquarters in Spain (which until the Olympics in 1992 still had fascist markings and sculpture on the facade); the church where the Spanish Inquisition was thought up and organized; a church that was burned and occupied by anarchists in the 1930's and has not operated as a church since; a wall at another church courtyard whose walls still displayed the wounds from bullets fired from fascist guns used to kill hundreds of anarchists and communists during the height of the spanish civil war. It's eerie, but -- and I do have some misgivings about saying this -- it is therapeutic. Imagining the sound of the guns echoing off the church walls, thinking of the level of dedication that existed at that time, it all makes me fee petty for the stress and worry I'm carrying with me about home, love and work.

After getting into our room we meet back up with Joan, we go out to a really great bar -- a few old men watch the Barcelona v Manchester United football match while Rick, Joan and I sip beer and chat

We meet up with the KRAX folks (organizers of the conference we're here to attend) and other attendees at a strange cafe/bar/social club, Hogar del Extreñeos. I have a strained conversation with one of the attendees from Chilé, my spanish is terrible.


day two:
I feel bad that I'm being so short tempered with Rick, I'm just stressed out and feeling forced to deal with shit I don't want.

Rick snores, loudly. Constantly. oh my god... I throw something at him in the middle of the night, my goal is to get him to roll over so the noise will stop. Instead he gets up and gives me a fresh set of earplugs. that man has been living alone for too long! but, the earplugs work.

Rick is not the only unwanted noise, the streets are FULL of British football hooligans, in town for the Manchester United/Barcelona match. If it was not for all the football hooligans we'd be in a much nicer hotel, maybe even with internet access. We hear that British cops were brought in and stationed near the stadium in an attempt to keep the crowd at the game under control. Throughout the night we hear deep British accents screaming, singing and making deals with prostitutes outside our window.

We head to the CCCB again and get some internet time, I get to see Toni and Rosa, the other OVNI folks. It's nice to see old friends.

A short meeting and dinner starts the conference for real, followed by some discussions about why we're all here. this really could be a good thing!!!

Tonight we heard presentations by:
(note: the organization descriptions on all the groups mentioned are taken from the Krax Jornadas program/website)

Casa Invisible (Malaga, Spain)
This is a bid to open a new space aimed at promoting citizen self-organization, critical thinking and collective creation. "We firmly believe in the need and the desire to start up public spaces in Malaga that aren't conditioned by government or commercial regulations, but can open up to the creativity and organizational capacity that arises from the social networks that inhabit and shape our city".

Parque Cultural Ex-Carcel (Valparaiso, Chile)
The Carcel (prison) building is right in the middle of the city. Since it closed in 1994, locals have been asking for it to be opened as a public space for the public, respectful of the heritage and history of the site. In light of the government's lack of response to their requests, groups of artists and locals started to occupy the prison's space, and created the Corporación de Amigos de la Ex-Cárcel. In 2001, a new Urban Plan was approved. Local residents support the creation of the cultural space as a place for community development, with activities programmed and managed by the Corporación de Amigos itself.



The 3 main days of the conference all start with walking tours of a different area of Barcelona fighting gentrification, led by neighborhood activists. I can't think of a better way to see a city. Today is a trip to Poble Nue.

The subways are funny, the voices are the same as the portland MAX train. The newer trains are cool, the train is one long articulated car, one long open space with no doors between cars.

We start at a fancy park/garden. This is one of the first projects that krax/CityMine(d) worked on. They fought to make an empty space a community park, the city finally agreed but gave a commission to design the park to a famous French architect (the one that made the penis-like glass tower that was recently built as the home of the Barcelona water commission). Instead of being a vibrant community space for the residents, the park is a sterile place that will soon be in all the Tourist Guides. A destination for the intended guests in the giant fancy hotels being built in the area.

We tour an old industrial space... a factory that for over 25 years has been used as an artists' space -- studios, gallery, performances, etc. From the roof it is apparent that just like the lower east side, huge buildings/luxury housing and hotels are being built that over shadow the smaller housing, standing on the roof of the building, seeing 15 high construction cranes in motion and 5 already existing shells of huge towers, one of the spaces organizers pointed to the row of tall buildings on the edge of neighborhood and said, "look! it's an urban tidal wave coming to blow us away." It did not take much imagination to see the buildings as the leading edge of a wave. I hope they survive the flood.


later that day...

With about 4 min warning and feeling out of my mind with work related stress (it's a really bad time to leave nyc) I'm asked to participate in a debate about autonomous organizations and how they should or should not be comfortable with the idea of being institutions or negotiating with the powers that be. I think I did an ok job, a number of other panelists referred to what I said and it was an interesting debate.

My point was that there is a serious danger that needs to be thought about. autonomy, resistance, opposition, institution.... (que sesame street music) which one of these things does not belong -- how can we be both autonomous and an institution. I gave some examples of abc no rio and how we try to keep the board focussed on the crap work and allow the collective to define the direction.

There were presentations that evening by:

Oranssi (Helsinki Finland)
Oranssi began 15 years ago. Following a series of occupations/evictions, they created the "Housing Company" so that they could have more power in negotiations with the City Council and access soft bank loans. After a long negotiation progress, the City Council rented them some old wooden houses. From that moment, Oranssi members began working on renovating the houses so they could be used as large share houses. So, on one hand, "community living"... On the other, a self-managed cultural center with an interesting philosophy: engage, inspire, educate...

IMDP,(Istambul, Turkey)
The Istanbul Platform of Neighborhood Associations consists of 24 neighborhoods. In response to plans to transform the city under the discourse of "modernisation" and "beautification", IMDP collects petitions and organises demonstrations and public actions. Local residents fight to be recognized as one of the principal actors in the process of deciding on the city's future. Independent of all public bodies, IMDP is supported by NGOs, citizen groups and activists.

Patio Maravallisa, (Madrid Spain)
A self-management project that wants to "make Madrid from the street" by providing the Malasaña area a public meeting space that it didn't have, and offering groups who needed it the chance to use it. There are already 50 groups working to condition the rooms, including BiciCritica, environmental cooperatives, local rap groups, residents...


day 4:

After so much constant walking, it was time to chill. we skip this morning's walking tour of Ateneu Nou Barris, a 30 year old project run in an old factory. It sucked that we missed it but we just had to give ourselves some downtime, go out and get some post cards and stamps and have a slow day.

We get up early, go to the big market for breakfast. We're there early enough to get breakfast, but not to beat the massive crowd. If I try to navigate the crowd, I'll go insane. no shopping today.

presentations that night by:

ROG Ljubljana, Slovenia
"It's not a traditional occupation or squatting of a space, but a temporary alteration of its purposes. It has been 15 years since the huge 7,000 meter square factory, which belongs to the city of Ljubljana, fell into decline. Until the government develops and establishes a clear strategy for resolving the problem of these empty buildings, we want to use our own initiative to open them up to all groups or individuals in the non-profit sector, to carry out independent productions with social and cultural content".

Pukar/Urban Typhoon, Mumbai India
The point of departure for PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research) is the debate around urbanization and globalisation. Mumbai is their conceptual base and laboratory: their aim is to encourage critical urban knowledge arising from citizens themselves through workshops, screenings, seminars and debates. In March 2008, PUKAR is organizing the Urban Typhoon Workshop in Dharavi, one of Mumbai's poorest areas, so that its residents can propose ideas and decide on the area's future urban plan.

Faro de Oriente, Mexico City Mexico (D.F.)
A space with an unusual level of creative freedom, El Faro is one of the best social-cultural initiatives in Mexico City. It fulfills a very important role in one of the largest and most marginalized areas of the city, contributing rebuilding the social fabric. This cultural community is funded by Mexico City's Department of Culture, but it fights to maintain self-management and self-development.


day 5

Up early and to the market for breakfast again, this time we're early enough to be able to spend some time walking around and getting some tastes of Spain to bring home. The we're off to barcelonetta, site of today's walking tour.

I ditch Rick at the hostel, draw some things on the big map so he can find his way and I head out to spend a little time on my own. It's good to get out and just walk. I stop at a local market and buy some gifts from a glass artist to bring home, even with the crappy dollar things are not as expensive as I had feared.

Barcelonetta, a beautiful neighborhood on the beach. Somehow it reminds me a bit of coney island (the neighborhood, not the amusement park). This neighborhood is under threat by a renovation plan. 20% of the apartments are going to be destroyed to make room for elevators in the buildings. In some cases entire buildings are going to be torn down to make room for elevators to serve the buildings next to it. In the name of making life easier on the elderly residents, they are being pushed out.

One neighborhood activist meets us at the local market and tells us the story of the area, shows us a map detailing what buildings are under threat. She's collecting plastic caps and lids. Apparently when she was arguing about the issue as a public meeting (a city council meeting maybe), a politician told her to shut up and put a lid on it. So, she's been collecting lids, creating art with them or mailing them to politicians. We end the tour at the local community center where a group of elderly activists is waiting for us, making paella. Last night at RAI, the center where the conference is being held, I had vegetarian paella, today I'm not so lucky.

After lunch, we head to the boardwalk and build a bit of an obstacle with cardboard boxes and plastic lids. Some artists and kids spray paint a banner and the border to the new "independent city of Barcelonetta" is created. We stop people, asking them if they have their passport. If they stop long enough for any interaction, we give them a new passport that contains the history of the neighborhood. Although very few folks stop, it's a great action. Sunburned and exhausted we head back to hostel, and then back to RAI to get ready for the presentation on ABC No Rio.

Tonight's presentations are:

The Movement for Justice in El Barrio (East Harlem, NYC)
East Harlem, more commonly known as "El Barrio/Spanish Harlem" has more than 100.000 residents, half of whom Latinos. More than 40% of the residents of El Barrio live under the poverty line. In this context arose the Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB), with a direct reference with the Zapatistas. Although the MJB started in 2004 as a resistance group against property owners, they have extended their scope to fight for social justice and against any type of oppression in El Barrio. By adhering to the Sixth Declaration of the selva Lacandona of EZLN and "The Other Campaign", MJB has been able to gain the support of the residents of El Barrio. The last campaign of MJB, inspired in The Other, is "The Consultation of El Barrio": through the process of hearing the residents, holding meetings, going from house to house and organizing a ballot at neighborhood level, consultation about the issues took place, and solutions are being developed.

ABC No Rio (Lower East Side, NYC)
ABC No Rio was founded in 1980: a few years ago, it bought the building from New York City Council for $1. "We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts and cognoscenti. Our dream is a cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists". The ABC No Rio community defines itself through shared values: social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action and collective processes.

Ateneu Candela Terrassa, Spain
The Ateneu aims to be an updated version of the "ateneos" that where common urban features in Catalonia in the early 20th century. The enormous vitality of the proletariat at the time can partly be explained by the existence of spaces belonging to the social movement – sort of "islands of freedom"-, from which power was constantly questioned. Almost a century later, this commitment is taken up once more, adapted to postmodern societies in which the logic of capital wants to swamp social life. To reverse this trend, we have Ateneu Candela, the creation of a social space for political intervention in the metropolitan area.

Unfortunately, the folks from Piso3 in Bogotá Columbia were denied entry visas by the Spanish Government and were not able to attend. Piso3 is an idea, a space and an action. Established by various groups and collectives of young people who have united their efforts to make themselves an independent space of their own (for young people, and from young people) where they can carry out their work and activities, the space has been conceived through voluntary, horizontal association, respecting autonomies and inviting debate and assembly. Within its specificity, innumerable organizations and initiatives continue to nurture that atmosphere, thanks to the spontaneity of young people concerned with acting and self-managing their future.

The ABC No Rio presentation goes ok. We're not as prepared as we should be but manage to get our ideas across without boring too many people. The event ends with everyone very happy they attended. There's talk of a small after-party and a larger after-after-party.

I'm flying out in the a.m. so I figure I'll go to the first party then go get some sleep. We walk and walk and walk and finally we find out that a decision was made along the way to skip the after-party (that was close to the hostel) and go directly to the after-after-party which is clear across town.

Despite my hesitance and exhaustion, it is a ton of fun. Great conversations, cold beer (did I mention that beer in spain is not all that good?). Finally, at 5:30, I convince rick to head out with me. We spend a drunken 45 minutes navigating our way back to the hostile -- the Metro does not start running for another hour. We get back with enough time for me to relax for a few minutes, pack and then head to airport.

Before I've even landed, I'm filled with a desire to return to Barcelona. Next time, hopefully my Spanish will be better.

Barcelona (and Madrid) are

Barcelona (and Madrid) are obsessively cleaned, as in all the time. from our hotel balcony at around 2am, we saw street cleaners "vacuuming" the streets, presumably so that everything will look spotless by the time the city wakes up.

İ love barcelona

nice travel story. i love barcelona and im tinking to go there in this summer. barcelona is wonderful city.