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July August  2000 # 19  

BARCELONA
A Year in The Life of..
by Michael Garry Smout

It was never The Barcelona Review’s intention to enter the world of tourist information or even to draw too much attention to the city unless, like Sant Jordi (World Book Day), it was literary oriented. The name, like the Paris Review (long situated in New York) or Mississippi Review, came about because this is where we live and where it began. But through much of our e-mail - some from those who mistakenly surfed to the site looking for hard-to-find tourist info, but most from readers and subscribers and even some contributors - we have learned that there is a huge interest in the city, with one of the most frequently asked questions being:
"When is the best time to visit?"
Answer: There is not a bad time to visit.


Sorry,
NO pictures due to robbery
- see July

JULY
&
AUGUST

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July: Last month I was mugged and stabbed. The only thing my attackers got away with was TBR’s new digital camera, but the incident has left me a little shaken and nervous about going out late at night. I mention this because a lot of people get mugged here and knives are flashed about, but being stabbed is, thankfully, still a rarity. July of course brings thousands of tourists to the city and they are easy prey. The Ramblas and surrounding area are the worst spots for bag-snatching, pickpocketing and other scams but things do get nastier at night. There is not much advice I can give: look after your bags, don’t get too drunk in the more dangerous areas, don’t fight back, the usual stuff. The police have been coming under heavy criticism this year and vigilantes have even taken to the streets in one neighbourhood, but the police are made useless by some laws that actually prevent them from doing their job. Barcelona relies heavily on its tourist trade and one presumes the City Hall will wake up because Barcelona is still one of the safest cities in Europe and it doesn’t take that much effort to keep the situation under a little better control. I was just very unlucky.

   World weather has shifted over the years, but if you don’t get a tan by the end of July you’ll have a hard time getting one with the strange overcast sky and humid heat of August. And the way 2000 seems to be shaping up we are not going to get any tan whatsoever. July is usually the indicator of just how miserable the heat can get, as evidenced by all the dead leaves on the Ramblas - a bit sad, autumn leaves in July - but generally the heat is just tolerable. Because the summer holiday break in August is a-comin’ for most people, it is a reasonably happy month if they don’t have too much on their desks to get through by the 31st. Many offices have summer hours which means they close at three o’clock, their workforces piling into restaurants or down to the beach. The Grec festival begins this month and goes on into August. This a huge affair involving theatre, music, dance and film, and takes place at various venues throughout the city including the pretty Greek (hence name) amphitheatre on Montju´c.

August: Now here is a month that the city council and the tourist board need to get to grips with. The 'old’ Barcelona still takes its traditional holiday and with it goes about half the places most tour guides - Let’s Go, Rough Guide, etc - recommend. These places would not automatically volunteer information to the guides about their summer plans for the simple reason it’s normal to close in August, and the guides don’t ask because they presume it’s normal for them to be open in high tourist season. The council also assume that with half the inhabitants on holiday it is time to dig up the streets, which can cause traffic delays. If you have a month to spend to discover the real Barcelona, this would be the worst one to choose. There are things going on - the GrÓcia Festival, where street after street is decorated and parties go on for ever, is the best example - but the heart of the city is dead. Where it is popping is the Ramblas, of course, where perplexed tourists wander distractedly (easy prey to them pesky purse-snatchers) at a loss to understand why so much of the city is ‘closed’; and Plaša Reial, with its tall palm trees and iron lamps (designed by the young Gaudi), where the many outdoor cafÚs face a square of buskers, fire-eaters, panhandlers of all sorts, winos, large circles of neo-punks, crusties, and the inevitable university crowd. It’s as mad and scuzzy as it sounds, especially at night, but it can be fun: two discos, a jazz club, and bar Glaciar are favourite meeting places. Down by the port, the huge, modern complex, Maremagnum - rather resembling the mall area of an airport on its ground floor - is filled with all-night bars and discos above. Ditto activity at the Olympic Marina. For partying down with mostly tourists and outsiders on the European rave trail, August can be accommodating, but if that’s not on your agenda, take note.

     Weather? Gets madder every year. 1998 started off with heavy rain - usually unheard of - that actually cleared the air and left the sky blue instead of the usual heat-haze grey. The August heat drives people off the streets into air-conditioned bars (not that easy to find); this is not the month for eating lunch outside. I sleep with two to three electric fans pointing straight at me to get some air moving, but I still sweat mud and my bills are more for summer ventilation than winter heat, which just goes to drive the point home - unless you want to party, do what the natives do....get the hell outta here!

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Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May  Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec
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Other tourist info/links in English: The city itself lacks a committed English site but the Town Hall (Ajuntament) has a useful site at www.bcn.es with a great interactive map (can be a bit slow at times) and a 'What's On' that although in Catalan is more or less understandable, very complete and up-to-date. London's 'Time Out' - www.timeout.com/barcelona/  is the next best stop for very good general and tourist background information plus a limited 'What's On'. Just down the road at Sitges www.playafun.com are finding their feet and on a raid last year to Barcelona managed to snap the only known Internet photo of yours truly... but... thank god, you'll have to hunt for it!

ę 2000 The Barcelona Review
                                  
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navigation:                         barcelona review #19                    july - august 2000
-Fiction James Meek: These Lovers
James Meek: And the Days Grow Shorter
Lynn Coady: Jesus Christ, Murdeena
David Ewen: God's Breath
Patricia Anthony: Owl Says
Abel Diaz: Comfortable
-Essay Barbara F. Lefcowitz: Rope, Pockets, The Bidet
-Interview Patricia Anthony: Worlds at War
-Article July and August in Barcelona
-Quiz Toni Morrison
Answers to last issue's William Faulkner Quiz
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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