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May - June  2000 # 18  

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.


Strings of fireworks above the street: see June


May: With the first real hot days and the trees in full leaf it is certainly one of the prettier months for gentle walking around and looking up at the balconies with their blossoming pot plants. Just roam. Barcelona is a perfect city for ripping up maps and simply moving, feeling, and sensing your way. May is probably the most peaceful month to visit: lots going on but nothing major - except the worker’s holiday on the first, to clog the city - and no huge pressure to have to be somewhere and see something. Then, too, there is summer finally in the air. Highly recommended for those lovers to get some fresh air after all that heavy reading in April. May is the first time you can sit outside and eat without the feeling that the weather is about to change and it is for that reason I decided to write a short, separate piece about Catalan food and how to create one of my favourite Catalan dishes, arr˛s negre, along with gruesome photos on how to prepare cuttlefish, one of the main ingredients. So, if you’re interested in Catalan cuisine click here.

June: It is very possible that the little party to celebrate Pentecost or Whitsun will occur at the very end of May, but it is more often in early June and takes place in the area called La Barceloneta on the day that is a public holiday only in Barcelona. It is one of the weirdest celebrations you’re ever likely to encounter, a neighbourhood fiesta unknown to even many residents of Barcelona. Groups of men wearing grocery items - sausages, chickens (usually plastic), toilet rolls, tins of tomatoes, erotic postcards fashioned as hats, etc. - and carrying facsimiles of double-axes that flash or reflect, do this very strange dance to pounding drums while a firework is set off and the Catalan flag is repeatedly dipped.
After some minutes they stop and walk to the next flag pole in another street and are replaced by another group who repeat the performance.  I’ve repeatedly tried to discover the origins of this bizarre ritual and have so far, thanks to reader Jordi Puig, found that it has something to do with returning sea traders/fishermen, flush with the success of their commerce, checking on their womenfolk. If a woman's pregnancy is the wrong side of hubby's sailing dates then the axe comes into play. But why this particular date? Favourable late-spring trade winds maybe? This street activity goes on all evening with lots of bar activity on the side. Once every group has done its bit, the fireworks that have formed a canopy over the streets and the main plaša are set off and people dance in the shower of sparks. When the main plaša’s fireworks are set off, it has to be the most intense noise ever....a great rush and great fun.

A fixed date, the 24th - one not decided by the nomadic life of Easter - is Sant Joan. The night before used to be total mayhem and my least favourite fiesta - and I love fireworks! Ten years ago it was almost ritual street slaughter - If it moves, throw a large Chinese cracker at it. It has since calmed down; enough people were losing limbs to force the issue. There is now some control of the banned-everywhere-but-here-Chinese-mothercrackers. The lead-up is still annoying though, with bratty kids letting off fireworks and freaking out all the cats and dogs in the area as well as yours truly. As with many celebrations, the reason for this holiday is getting lost in time. It does have (or did have) some connection to the old pagan/Celtic spring festivities that mirror winter's Halloween in the sense that spirits from the underworld use this time to gain access to our world. This is the reason why bonfires are lit at street intersections. Now the fiesta heralds the end of school and the bonfires are supposedly meant to be fed with schoolbooks. Whatever it was, it now seems to indicate the end of everything that includes some kind of paperwork, until September. By that I am suggesting that summer attitude and laziness take hold June 24th and very little will now get done for two months or so. Tourism and Brussels have managed to kick some ass, but...be warned: if your important contract hasn’t been signed by now, you might as well join everyone else for a very long summer.

The ever-growing Sonar Festival kicks off around mid-month (dates this year: 15th, 16th, 17th). This International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Arts, once held on woody Montju´c and at an affordable price, is now staged in the Contemporary Culture Art Gallery (CCCB) and the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MACBA) - hardly the chill out setting of before. It’s now considerably pricier and draws a more uptown crowd, but not exclusively. Thousands of people attend the three-day event, that in the past has been headed by Kraftwerk and Laurent Garnier. This year's headliner is still a mystery.

Weather? Usually good; clear skies. The beach starts to become official (June 15th is a benchmark start for the summer season and price hikes in tourist bars) as the Red Cross, the beach huts and the hawkers move in. All in all, a highly recommended month apart from the rowdy kids and their arsenal of fire-crackers.


Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May  Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec

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 #18                     may - june 2000
-Fiction Jess Mowry - One Way
Richard Weems - Curbside Mailboxes
Adam Blackwell - The Louis Agency
Deirdre Maultsaid - Puppy Dogs' Tails
Javier Calvo - Ned Flanders
-Poetry Dolors Miquel - Two Poems
-Article May and June in Barcelona
-Quiz William Faulkner
Answers to Jorge Luis Borges Quiz
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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