Despite Europe’s obvious appeal as a holiday destination, Dale Giancono sometimes saw the darker side. ‘Barcelona – a contrast’ is the first in a series of reflections on Giancono’s travels.
Barcelona is often touted as one of the go to places while traveling in Europe. Whether for the nightlife, beaches, architecture or food; the city has developed a well-crafted image for itself. So it seemed like the logical place to start my fourth solo European journey. But during my short stay there I saw a very different place.
I’d say it’s somewhat uncommon to find yourself staring out into the ocean in Barcelona and wishing you were anywhere else. By the end of my first night there, I can honestly say it’s how I felt.
I was five metres from the ocean in the middle of the night, watching some beautiful girl emerge in nothing but her underwear. It would have been one of those surreal travel memories if I could ignore my surroundings for five seconds. Metres from the girl, two men were emptying the contents of their stomach into the water. There were women with heels in hand and men shouting profanity, all without a Spanish soul in sight. Terrible pop music blared from the clubs lining the beach (if you can call it a beach). Like the majority of beaches in Barcelona, it was artificially made in time for the 1992 Summer Olympics. A nice touch.
About 50 men from all around the world were combing the sand with six-packs of beer in one hand and a box of sandwiches in the other, offering to sell me something just to make a few euro. They were all receiving the general abuse visitors often give people in their position. Feigned purchases and fun being made.
I talked to one Pakistani man selling samosas out of a box. When he found out I was Australian his eyes lit up, “We should play cricket!” he said. I remember his face much better than the girl in the underwear. Despite the people surrounding him and the odd situation he was in, he was as happy as they come. Happiness in that moment is something not even I could manage. This was not the image of the city I’d been sold.
It’s no secret Spain and the EU as a whole is currently beating off a horde of unwanted immigrants. That kind of language may seem insensitive if it were not literally true. Recently emerged video makes Australia’s island detention centres seem a luxury.
On street corners around much of Spain you can see these unwanted people selling fake handbags on table cloths, evading police or selling beer and sandwiches. These kinds of scenes can be seen all around the globe, no matter the country. But to see it in a city which has spent the better part of 30 years transforming itself into a place of extravagance and excess, the contrast between rich and poor is clear.
The day before I left I walked up to the ‘Bunker’, a busy tourist spot on a high point overhanging the city. Once I arrived, I spotted graffiti which read “Tourist go home, refugees welcome”. As I approached, two tourists took a selfie of themselves in front of the graffiti, contorting their faces into odd shapes and giggling at the irony.
As I sat up there and watched the sun set, I thought back to a conversation I had with a fellow solo traveller on the beach the previous night. He asked how I could not hate people after traveling alone for so long. He resented other travelers for being rude and arrogant, for being wilfully ignorant to the screwed up things happening around them, and for the troubles he personally had trying to relate to these people he relied on for company.