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Novemberr -December  2000 # 21

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.



November: Nothing like the Mexican Day of the Dead but November 1, if falling on a weekday, does give the green TEFL teacher not only a chance to breathe after a month of teaching but also their first wage packet. With the Day of the Dead starting off the month, one can only fear the worst. This always feels like the coldest month; January and February are colder, but November is the first real chill after the hot summer so it gets blamed accordingly. Not the greatest time to visit, but certainly OK if you’re not into eating outdoors.

December: With a holiday on the 6th and another on the 8th the jerky start to the festive month is sometimes smoothed by a puente that allows holidays to ‘bridge’ together by usually adding another day. Logic that not many will argue with.

     Christmas is still reasonably low-key here. There are things like Christmas street-lighting and some crass commercialism in the big stores, which are allowed to open on Sundays during this period, but it is not as overblown and in-yer-face as in Britain and the States. One of the nicest things they do is build a huge diorama with living trees and plants, even live animals, in the middle of Plaça Sant Jaume 1 with a discreet nativity scene somewhere in the foliage. There is also the Santa Llúcia Fair, a sort of Christmas decoration market held in tiny huts clustered around the Cathedral that finishes on the 24th. At first glance it is not very impressive but a closer look reveals Catalunya may well need to change its name to ‘Scat-alunya’ as almost everything seems to be about having a shit. For starters, there is this log with a face that is supposed to be filled with goodies; young children hit the log while shouting "Shit log, Shit!"(Caga, tió, caga!) -  not "Shit, Uncle, shit" (Caga, tiet, Caga!), as I first wrote and which Robert Hughes mistakenly put in his book Barcelona, having confused tió (log) with the Spanish tío (uncle), an error pointed out to us by reader Marta Marín.  When you see this in huge scale outside a department store with a line of kids waiting to beat the shit out of a log you may well consider that this is one hell of a strange place - but it gets better, or worse depending on your tastes. Take a closer peek at the average nativity scenes on display in shops and bars (not in church). Somewhere in the background is a model of a Catalan having a dump. This tradition is possibly quite recent (300 years ago or so) and is perhaps a simple and very green message about life and birth and everything returning to the soil and so on. Little crapping Catalans (caganars) are on sale at the Cathedral fair in all shapes and forms, from politicians to footballers, squatting with trousers around knees and a rather large stool emerging from the rear end. These are quite graphic and also very collectable. Also on sale are small ‘grotto’ nativity scenes (without figures) made from cork bark, dried flowers and lichen, which can be very beautiful although terrifyingly expensive.

     The city is of course bombarded by Hollywood’s version of Yuletide but it does manage to retain a balance between the Santa invasion and old traditions. TV schedules hardly change, newspapers don’t scream out good cheer on the front page, and most bars and restaurants don’t bother with decorations. The main shopping areas, however, are packed and best avoided. Because I prefer to escape the horrors of the 25th elsewhere in the world, I try to stay in Barcelona and so far it has always been a quiet, relaxing sunny day where one can have a drink outside and, like last year, decide at the last minute to go for an al fresco Chinese sizzling duck around the corner.

     December 28th is the Day of The Innocents and is the equivalent of April Fool’s Day. As a visitor you might miss many of the pranks that go on but the most common is to secretly stick a crude human image in paper onto someone’s back, which might help to explain why everyone on the Ramblas is checking their back.. Which brings us back to ....


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!

© 2000 The Barcelona Review
This article  may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
navigation:                         barcelona review 21                 november- december 2000

Steve Aylett: Atom and Drowner
Charles D'Ambrosio: Her Real Name
Alicia Erian: When Animals Attack
Jim Grimsley: Boulevard
Matt Leibel: Columbus Day
Anthony Neil Smith: Everyone Grieves in a Unique Way
Paul A.Toth: Psychologically Ultimate Seashore

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