I’m in Sant Andreu, a district in Barcelona, and it is my first time away from the city centre. As I traveled here on the metro, gradually I was surrounded by more and more Catalan people.
…and as this happened, I started to relax significantly, even though I was leaving the glitz and glamour of the city centre which had so far been my comfort zone in Barcelona. It hadn’t really hit me that the city centre was made up mostly of tourists, even though it’s the same in the cities back home. Tourism brings with it it’s own ‘vibe’, money, drugs, and gimmicks, to name a few.
Getting off the train and ascending the stairs of the Sant Andreu metro, this is the first sight that greeted my eyes:
I decided then and there that i was not going to be a tourist, instead, i am a wandering fool.
An elderly man next to me walks up behind his friend who is sleeping on a chair in the public square outside of the metro, and wakes him up with an affectionate hug and a warm greeting.
The Catalunyan people are so damn friendly. Although I can’t speak their language, they give me a big smile, touch my shoulder, and we do our best together to communicate and make it fun.
Across the courtyard from me, two beautiful women with strong brown eyes, hair, and skin, sing a song together to their children with tender ascending voices.
Not far from them a bunch of young handsome lads talk loudly to each other with embroiled voices of vigorous valor.
Plenty of old people sit and look around patiently, and two lovers sitting on the grass together kiss each other slowly with sideways-sweeping tongues.
The air is warm with the fresh smell of bread, fruit, fine perfumes, and autumn leaves. Tables and chairs adorn the tree lined streets. Cold dripping glasses of gold cevesa (beer) and red sangria are lifted up to the mouths of people who are talking and laughing with each other in the afternoon.
I walk through the suburbs of gentle happy Catalan people, many of whom walk arm in arm with each other.
A freshly dressed young man is wearing a leather jacket that says “EAT THE RICH” on the back (right on my brother!).
A mother walks with her 18 year old son, her hand rests in the crook of his elbow.
TRAVELING HOT TIP 101
When you’re walking around somewhere new,
do not walk around with this look on your face:
Instead, just look around like you’re enjoying the shit out of yourself, and are hence, untouchable:
I arrive at my friend Julia’s apartment in Sant Andreu at 9 pm after getting lost for a long time, I’d been too distracted by all of the god damn beautiful people everywhere.
“Hola?” comes a friendly voice from the intercom out the front of the apartment.
“Hola.” I chime back, and the front door buzzes open.
I walk up some stone steps to find Julia beaming her intergalactic smile at me. She kisses me lightly on both cheeks before ushering me inside the apartment which is warm, smells lovely, and is the colour of whipped cream. Julia introduces me to her friend Joseph, his smile too is like the gates of heaven. My bags slide off my shoulders eagerly and fit neatly into the corner. Julia and Joseph show me around their quaint apartment, and introduce me to their two pet rats Kiwi and Lucas.
❤ Anna + Joseph holding down the heart of the world. ❤
They whisk me down onto the street and into a brightly lit supermarket, where we buy beer and pizza. Joseph generously shouts us all because he’s a sweetheart, and as the woman behind the checkout gives him his change, Joseph says “Gue vagi be!”.
(Que vagi be is my favorite word in Catalan so far, it is pronounced ‘Ca-Va-Gi-Bear’, it means something along the lines of “Go forth in good health”, and it reminds me of the Bundjalung word ‘Boog-ool-bey’ which means “thank you” in the Northern rivers of Northern New South Wales)
We head back up to the apartment laughing and singing, excited to begin our conversations that will weave Catalunya and Australia together as one.
“I plant myself here“
First we eat dried bread sticks dipped in Camembert cheese.
“It’s the caviar for poor people.” Julia says. We all agree to this and eat them together as one international royal family.
Julia and Joseph make a great team for overcoming the language barrier that stems mostly from me. Joseph speaks English with a thick accent and as fast as an Aussie, whilst Julia takes her time to speak slow and clear. Effortlessly they code switch between Catalan, Spanish and English with each other, finding the right words so that I can understand. Oh how I wish I could do them the honor of speaking to them in their language, the beautiful song that it is, but I do give them what I can offer which is to nod my head a lot and say “Si, si, si,” as they talk, and “Gracias,” whenever they show me their generosity, which is all of the time.
The conversation switches to education, working, and living costs.
“How much would you make on the minimal wage in Australia if you worked 50 hours per week?” Joseph asks me.
“About $900.” I reply casually. ($900 is the equivalent of something like 750 euros.)
Great big gasps of amazement fill the room.
“Fuarrrk! No way!” Julia says.
“We would make $900 in one month!” Joseph says.
Julia puts her hands to her head and massages in disbelief, “Fuark man, so much money! Imagine what you could do with so much money!”
( a little voice speaks to me in the back of my mind, “If we are so well off in Australia, why don’t we cut down to a 4 day average working week? Then maybe we could fix the problem of unemployment too.”… but alas, i am a dreamer.)
– Granted, the costs of living are different in Catalunya and Australia, but when you’re making the Catalan minimal wage of 4.9 euros an hour, compared with the Australian minimal wage of $20, which is about the equivalent of 12 euros per hour, Australians have definitely got it pretty damn good. –
I also came to learn that Julia and Joseph don’t receive social welfare for studying at University, all of the costs are either payed for by them or their parents up front, and if they get a loan from the government, they have to pay it back at 20% interest.
– To receive any kind of social welfare in Catalunya, you have to be extremely poor, and it will cost you an arm and a leg of filling out paper work to prove that you are so unbelievably poor. –
Joseph invites me out onto the balcony for a ciguretto. The balcony is big enough to turn your feet slightly sideways and squish your body up against the railing. Watching the smoke rise from out of our mouths and into the Iberian sky, our conversation starts to turn towards history and politics. I ask him about the Catalan independence movement, and he clears up for me that with anything, there are those who are extreme and those who do not care too much, and that it is mostly the extremities of both sides that are portrayed by the media.
He tells me about the horrific Spanish civil war in the 1930’s, that was between those who wanted a Republic and those who were on the far right wing, the Fascitas. The republic was defeated, and one of the Generals in the Fascita military who was named Franco, rose to power and ran a cruel dictatorship across Spain and Catalunya.
Franco made Iberia a living hell until he died in 1975. The Catalan people were heavily oppressed during this time, and the Catalan language was made illegal and forced underground. Joseph speaks of a time that his parents and grandparents remember, where people were tied to posts with two metal bolts in front of and behind their necks, that were slowly screwed together through the flesh until they would basically drown in their own blood.
“Dude, that’s so fucked up.” I say.
“Yeah, this is why our people are so strong and fight so hard for our independence.” He replies.
Joseph swears to me that he is not very political or knowledgeable about history, i tell him that most 19 year olds in Australia wouldn’t know as much as he does about the politics and history of their own country.
We talk some more on the balcony in the warm Catalunyan night, with it’s yellow glowing streets that smell of a mysterious perfume.
Joseph tells me about how the politics of Catalunya are slowly becoming more right wing.
“Yeah,” I say, “It’s happening in Australia too, I think it might be happening in a lot of places around the world.”
“It sounds like you have it very good in Australia. Do your people fight hard for it?” He asks.
“No, actually it’s quite the opposite. Australians don’t know how good we have it, and all of these wonderful things like social welfare are slowly being chipped away at, whilst the Australian population is just watching it happen and doing nothing about it.”
“These kinds of great things that you have,” he says, “are the kinds of things that we are trying to obtain.”
“It is easier to fight to maintain, than it is to fight for something new, no?”
“Bro, I’m going to write that in my blog, that is some straight up wisdom right there!”
“Two euros for every word of wisdom!” He says raising two fingers up and smiling, and out giggles ricochet down the narrow streets.
I can’t help but feel a little worm of guilt niggle inside my stomach, as two euro’s is nothing to me, but for him it is half of what he would earn in an hour.
Julia says something in Catalan from the lounge room.
“What did she say?” I ask Joseph.
“She says that we should talk more quiet.” He replies.
“But we are in Catalunya!” I yell and hear my voice say the words three times bouncing off the yellow walls and into the night.
It’s 10:30 pm, and still people are strolling through the streets with their children in their prams. Time is lived very differently here.
We go back inside and sit down next to dreadlocked-takes-no-bullshit-sweet-hearted Julia, who’s chilling out hard-style on the couch.
❤ Julia (The illest!) ❤
(I’ve been seeing ‘Tremo’ all over Barcelona, shout outs to Tremo for putting in the hard yards!)
“Julia, what’s with the graffiti on the walls in the streets that talk about liberty and independence?” I ask as Joseph pours me a beer quicker than I can say “Muchas Gracias!”
“It’s made by the people that are called the “Occupiers” or “Anarchists.” She replies.
She goes on to tell me that there are many people in Barcelona and wider Catalunya who refuse to be take part in the system. All across Barcelona there are abandoned buildings that are occupied by these people who are extremely frowned upon by the government.
“If you don’t have a place to stay,” she says, “Find a building that is marked by a lighting bolt and knock on the door, they won’t refuse you to stay you the night, and you will be safe.”
“Esta guai!” I reply with eager eyes. (‘Esta guai’ means ‘that is cool’ in Catalan, it’s pronounced ‘es-ta-why’. When you pronounce the guai/why bit, you dip deeply into the ‘W’ and round it out through the mouth.)
Contrary to what some might assume, Julia insists that the Anarchists work hard to turn the abandoned buildings into nice homes where everyone is welcome, and that they do a lot of work for their communities, such as growing their own food and cooking up big feasts where everyone is welcome to eat regardless of whether or not that have money to donate. (Power to the people!)
Julia’s brown eyes light up with pride as she tells me about her cousins who are ‘Occupiers’ near her home town of Palafolls in north Catalunya. They had turned an abandoned country house into a sustainable money-free paradise where they threw festivals and performers and artists would come from all over the world to perform and run workshops for free.
They built many remarkable earthen structures, sourced food from their gardens and donations from local businesses’, and were highly respected by their community. It was called “Candela”, and two months ago, it was raided by police, who evicted the occupiers and demolished everything they had built including the house.
“Candela never dies!” Julia exclaims and pumps her fist into the air above her head. “They have found another house, and are rebuilding again. I will take you there and introduce you to my cousins.”
Check our the Candela Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/masia.lacandela
I ask Julia and Joseph why the Spanish government will not allow Catalunya to be independent. They explain to me that Catalunya has the strongest industry in Spain, and that the Catalan people pay the highest amount of tax.
“Well that explains it.” I say.
“The way I see it,” Julia says like an 18 year old sage, “The people of Catalan already have our independence, we know it in our hearts and are strongly united with each other. Before we gain our independence I ask, what about the people living in poverty on the streets? What does independence mean to them when they have nowhere to sleep at night? What about the people who are living in poverty in Spain? What about the people in poverty all around the world?”
That’s it Julia, you’ve just gone straight to the top and nailed it right on the head.
What can we truly claim to have achieved, when we still have people without a home and going hungry on the streets?
Our government back home is always going on about the ‘economy‘, but what does the economy mean to those of us who are starving everyday?
Is there truly such a thing as a ‘strong economy’ when we turn a blind eye to those of us with the least?
When was the last time you heard the government talk about poverty?
Is our government truly fulfilling its purpose?
To serve we the people in our best interests?
Or is it now serving those with the most? Fulfilling the best interests of corporate interests?
Be aware of the oncoming ‘Neo-Liberal Agenda’.
Joseph tells me that although the people of Catalan are both fluent in Catalan and Spanish, that the Spanish don’t bother to learn Catalan, and some even flat out refuse to speak it, which is extremely disrespectful and hurtful to the Catalunyan people. We all agree that not all Spanish people are like this, that there would definitely be some who think that Catalunya should have its independence.
I tell them that the Spanish not bothering to learn Catalan is similar to white Australia not learning how to speak even some basic Indigenous Australian words, and how white Australia expects the Indigenous people to learn our culture and language, whilst we don’t honor them in kind by learning from them ( A people who survived for at least over 150,000 years, whilst we are now struggling to survive 200), and that many Australians don’t understand why some Indigenous people resent our ways and are not grateful for what we ‘give’ them.
It’s is now 1 am and one by one we yawn deeply and announce that it is time for bed. I ask them for one last thing, if they could write some Catalan words and phrases in my book so that I can practice and use them while I’m here. This turned into an enthusiastic session of Catalan language education, where they rolled their tongues like soft machine guns, and when I tried, it came out like a soggy lisp.
Although Catalan and Spanish are very similar. Catalan sounds more beautiful to me, it is earthier and shapes around the mouth like a sweet dessert.
Cleaning up the lounge room together before going to bed, Julia and Joseph make sure that I know that I am welcome to stay with them in their tiny apartment whenever I want.
“You should wake up in the morning like a Catalunyan,” Julia says grandiosely, “at 11 am!”
Again I am blown away by these beautiful people. I fall asleep easily and have dreams of friendly U.F.O.’s sweeping through the skys and abducting people, to put them into a state of utter bliss.
❤ Que vagi be! ❤
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