Monday, March 14, 2011

Loki Land

We are now in Loki’s favourite city in the world, Barcelona. Why is this her favourite city? Now that we’re here, we can certainly see why. She hasn’t even been here yet but she already knows. Barcelona is a must-see on any itinerary.

It started out as a Roman city, like most of the cities in this neck of the woods, actually. Under the streets of Barcelona, the Roman ruins lay out the original city plan. It was very small; more of a fort really. They had a wall around it. The Barcelona city museum has a whole section of the ruins uncovered deep beneath the present day buildings. You take an elevator down to see the streets and businesses of two thousand years ago. My favourite was the fish sauce factory. It wasn’t called fish sauce then. It was garum. This was big business. They processed the fish and added yummy flavours like dog cockles, sea urchins and snails. I don’t know what a dog cockle is but it doesn’t sound all that tasty to me. What happened to the Herbs de Provence, I ask?

For centuries, Barcelona was one of the major players along the Mediterranean. It was certainly the main hub in Spain. Enough so that when Christopher Columbus returned from his successful voyage to India…all right, North America, he came back to Barcelona with his gold and “Indian” prizes…er, guests. Spain became the European poster child for the next century or two. The people of Barcelona, however, are not Spanish. They are Catalan. Catalans are a pretty tenacious people. Although, the area is now a part of Spain, the Catalans don’t approve.

When Spain was first joining all the little kingdoms together, the Catalans were there. There was some sort of agreement where they could keep their own language and customs but would enjoy free trade and common currency…hmmm. Well, something like that. Around the mid-17th century, the Castillians (Spanish) started to get spread pretty thin with disputed lands in Netherlands, North America, Provence and the south of Italy. Everyone was rebelling and the armies were spread all over. That’s when Spain came up with a brilliant new plan to just have common laws throughout and to tax everyone equally to help pay for their wars. This didn’t go over well with the Catalans and they refused. Because the war with Provence was right on their doorstep, however, the Spanish king decided to use Barcelona as the launch pad for his fight. He conscripted the men, used their resources to feed and pay his army and basically made poor choices all the way around leading to some very hard feelings. They rebelled and it was nasty but didn’t really win them freedom. By the 19th century when Franco was dictating how it was gonna be, the Catalans were STILL rebelling and they were one of the last strongholds of resistance against him. Sadly, this resulted in their language being outlawed and any sign of Catalan being frowned upon by Franco and his gang.

You’ve got to hand it to them though, even after fifty years of dictatorship they kept their spirit alive and when Franco passed on, as all dictators eventually do, they came back kicking. Today, the language and customs are alive and well, the carefully fanned resentment is flourishing and the graffiti is there to prove it. Every Sunday many Catalan people gather in a square to dance the traditional Sardana dance together. They put all their shopping or whatever they are carrying in the middle of the circle while they join hands and dance the steps that have been danced (off and on) for centuries while a live band plays their music. It was fun to watch people wander up and join the circle. Most of the dancers were old enough to have been alive during the Franco years but there were some younger people as well. What gets me is that they do this EVERY weekend all year long! It seems so casual yet somehow poignant.

The city today is a city within a city within a city. It started out as a Roman fort town and grew to a walled medieval town and now is a sprawling metropolis. While wandering the older streets we came upon a plaque which had been posted to note the high point of the medieval city. It was 16.9 metres high at Mount Tabor. Yes, they called it “Mount”. As Tom said, there are people on horses higher than that mount. He’s good, isn’t he?

Another place worthy of note is La Bouqeria, the market place off La Rambla. It was just pelting down rain the day we strolled the Rambla so maybe that added to the excitement of the covered market. After so many French markets this one was refreshing. Where the French markets were spacious and open, this one was crowded and crammed into a limited venue. The French markets were pastels and muted colours. This one was eye-popping brilliance with vibrant colours at every turn. The fruit stands were the best. The variety of fruits was mouth-watering. They had juices of every colour made with fruits we only rarely see in Canada. Dragon fruit, cactus fruit, passion fruit, papaya, mango and coconut were some of the interesting fruit drinks but they also had blackberry, kiwi, raspberry and so on. There were also interesting meats and cheeses on skewers, fry boxes with some sort of meat chips inside, skewers of cod fritters, and tapas delicacies we never did identify. We went back to have dinner there one evening but alas, most of the vendors were gone then. We did manage to have another fruit drink, though.


Mynnette said...

Rhys looks so much older with his hair cut! Loved the dancing. Xx Mynnette said...

Hi All, I LOVE Barcelona the best of all the cities you've been to. And RHYS...I nearly didn't recognize you with your hair cut ... your smile is spectacular!I don't get sound but the dancing was SO neat! Julia, I think that you are getting taller! Tom, you comment is FUNNY! Thanks for keeping the blogs coming..Love Mom

Loki said...

Rhys your hair..........hahahhahahahahahahahahahhahahahah LOL