Barcelona or Madrid?

Back to Spain (Madrid right now) and a familiar Spanish keyboard. We left Paris (Beauvais, the little airport an hour's busride from Porte Maillot), for Barcelona on Saturday. Our Ryanair flight to Reus (another little airport for low-cost airlines about an hour and a half from the city) was so long delayed that we were too late for the bus and had to wait 3 hours, until after midnight, for a trip to the city. Plaça de Catalunya was still hopping at 2 in the morning, mostly noisily drunk young foreigners.

We like Barcelona, and even thought of buying a little apartment there for when we need a dose of urban life. But we didn't. One reason was that the prices for what we thought were attractive spots, in the Ciutat Vella and the Born, were prohibitive, and most required long climbs up flights of narrow stairs. The other reason was that, as charming as the city is to visit, you wouldn't want to live there. Not if want to be more than a tourist, but a participant in the society. That at least was our impression, from the tone of political debates and what we could learn of cultural events. So we opted for Madrid, a much bigger city (3,256,000 pop. vs. Barcelona's 1,621,537), less charming but lots more active.

Our impression was confirmed by friends, none of them Catalan-born but all long-time residents of Barcelona (20 years or more) and fluent in Catalan. (Fortunately they were also fluent in "Spanish", i.e., Castilian, so we could communicate.) As they could tell us from their own experience, cultural and professional opportunities (a stage for your theater production, a publisher for your magazine or book, advancement in a government office or private company) are (with rare exceptions) tightly controlled by networks of old boys (and maybe some old girls) from established Catalan families. It's so bad that some of the most creative Catalan artists have chosen to make their careers in other parts of Spain and/or in that other language—most noisily, the irreverent playwright and producer Albert Boadella (that's he, sitting on the toilet). And if a Catalan artist such as Joan Manuel Serrat or writer (Javier Cercas, Ana María Matute, Carlos Ruiz-Zafón and many, many others) wants to perform/publish in Spanish (the only way to reach a far larger and international audience), he or she must be prepared to face hostility from the Barcelona intellectual elite.

As Susana points out, all cities are run by coteries of little clans or "mafias" (in Argentina we call them camadas) trying to advance only their own. But in bigger, more diverse cities, like Madrid or New York, their are too many of them for any one to hold a monopoly. Beautiful Barcelona has a lot to offer, but there's an awful lot it withholds.

Boadella photo from Don't Disturb Magazine
Catalan writers in Spanish (article in Spanish)

1 comment:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

That strikes me as odd and interesting. As you know I spent 6 months in Catalonia in 1970. I have relatives there and have been for brief visits since. The impression I have always had was that most of the cultural figures that Americans associate with Spain are actually Catalan – Picasso, Miró, Dali, Montserrat Caballe, Victoria de Los Angeles, Pablo Casals, Fernando Valenti, Jordi Savall , not to mention Rafael Nadal – all Catalan. Perhaps my views are out of date