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The Revolutionary Kitsch of Barcelona

Greetings from Barcelona where there is now a Passeig Andreu Nin (Passeig being Catalan for Paseo).  It is quite an impressive item, especially since it is the location of what I believe to be the most overwhelming, overbearing, over-the-top shopping … Read More

By / November 17, 2008

Greetings from Barcelona where there is now a Passeig Andreu Nin (Passeig being Catalan for Paseo).  It is quite an impressive item, especially since it is the location of what I believe to be the most overwhelming, overbearing, over-the-top shopping center in the history of commerce.  It is called Heron City for reasons I cannot fathom.  One could only believe in such a thing if one saw it for itself.  A bowling alley with an internet rank, at which I am now writing, is only one feature.  The rest is simply… staggeringly vulgar and crazy in the way only the Spanish can do such things.

One imagines Luis Buñuel creating such a monstrosity in a movie.  Andreu Nin, the ex-anarchist, martyr to Stalinism, Catalan literary critic, is now a beloved figure, his name decorating something that really looks like it was designed on LSD. Of course the consolation is always that of normality.  Now that the anti-Stalinists have won the battle of historical memory in Spain it probably makes perfect sense to have a place like this on a street named for Nin.  It shows that Nin is simply part of the mental landscape of the Catalans, as he always was.  Of course there are still no streets in Barcelona named for Dolores Ibarruri, Milton Wolff, or the International Brigades. It makes me think of a giant golf course in Beverly Hills on Leon Trotsky Boulevard.  One could even invent all sorts of extreme variations on the principle; a TV game show called NKVD For a Day in which down at the heels movie stars dress up as Yezhov… The Karl Marx lapdance bar… Lenin cough drops… Kropotkin cupcakes… Emma Goldman toothpaste… Who knows what would have happened if the Via Laietana in Barcelona were to have kept its name as the Via Durruti?  There might now be the Via Durruti auto agency selling BMWs. Of course there are other examples of how these things work.  In Uzbekistan they are so proud of the famous Islamic thinker Ibn Sino (known as Ibn Sina or Avicenna in the West) that one does see the Ibn Sino gas station, Ibn Sino t-shirt shop, etc.  And in Kazakhstan they have the Alfarabi meat market, etc.   Of course Western Europe is awash with images of the gentle physician and executioner Che Guevara, so that in Holland one can buy Che Guevara cigar cutters, ashtrays, t-shirts, backpacks, etc.    I was in the North African section of Marseilles over the weekend and went into an Islamist bookshop.  Piles of books by Ibn Abd Al Wahhab alongside Che Guevara bookbags! Barcelona has changed a lot and I must say, mainly not for the better.  Most of the old working class bars have disappeared.  Everything is designed for a Woody Allen film now.  The former Barri Xines or Barrio Chino (also known as El Raval), the shabby neighborhood on the lower side of the Rambles, was completely rehabilitated during the Olympics and is now squeaky clean, but has somewhat been consigned to the Muslim immigrants, including a lot of Pakistanis which is not surprising considering Pakistanis go where there is commerce, not hard labor, and in Catalunya hard labor would be done by Africans.  Very different from Marseille in that in the Raval immigrants and their businesses are present but there are apparently no Islamic bookshops — maybe because there is so little radical literature in Spanish. Some of the surviving nice snackbars do a kind of weird double business with their locals coming in and competing for space with tourists asking idiotic questions about tapas… I always tell them to try the blood sausage, which is really a sin, but I know it will make them suffer intestinally… which they deserve. The Barcelona bookstores have taken a dive in quality.  The old days when they were filled with fabulous academic works on Judaism and Islam have ended.  It´s all bestsellers now – except that the Catalans remain obsessed with their history before and during the civil war and there are a lot of extremely interesting new books on aspects of the 1930s that never saw light of day in the past.  I suspect this is part of the rather suspect revival of recriminations over the civil war by the Zapatero crowd.  Since Zapatero wants to dig up all the dead from the civil war the Catalans are going to lead the pack by getting a lot of new stuff in print, which in principle is fine. I bought enough books that I have to send them to DC by UPS tomorrow, but they are mostly about Catalan history, not about Islam or Judaism which is what I really wanted.   Maybe the Madrid bookstores will be better — I´ll go there Wednesday, but I am not optimistic.  A lot of books I used to see all over the place are now probably only available from second hand dealers.   Since I personally donated 100+ Spanish academic books on Sephardic subjects to the University of Sarajevo I might now have to go back and ask them to let me copy some of them.

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