by Michael Garry Smout
It was never The Barcelona Reviews
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
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 youre 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
Hollywoods version of Yuletide but it does manage to retain a balance between the
Santa invasion and old traditions. TV schedules hardly change, newspapers dont
scream out good cheer on the front page, and most bars and restaurants dont 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.
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!
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