Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mediterranean 2014 - part eight

Barcelona ... Barcelona means Gaudi. So here's your Gaudi and that's it. Someone - not me - noticed you can just see the towers, scaffolding and construction cranes of La Sagrada Familia from the ship. There they are, beyond the more traditional towers and lorry in the foreground.

The church may - may - be finished in 2026, a hundred-and-forty-four years after it was begun. You want more, find a website.

I have been rereading a well-pencilled, university copy of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy supported Franco's rebellion against the legitimate government in Madrid. The government was supported by a range of leftist groups, including foreign volunteers, opposed to Fascism. However, the government was also assisted by Stalin's Soviet Union, as totalitarian as Germany and Italy, if not more.

In May 1937, hostilities broke out in leftist ranks as the Communists moved to eliminate potential rivals. The fighting, in which Orwell participated, was largely in Barcelona. So - forgive the long preamble - while most people on Maasdam are off to revel in Gaudi, I want to find Orwell.

Finding Orwell means walking up one of Europe's most famous streets, La Rambla in central Barcelona. 

A few days after Catalonia's straw poll on independence from Spain, I pass scores of Catalonian flags.

A short distance on, the Hotel Continental where Orwell and his wife stayed during the war. 

Orwell was on leave when the internecine clash began. He'd just returned from the front hoping for decent food, a comfortable bed and bath at the Continental. Instead, the relatively posh hotel was at the centre of a street battle. 

Not many now ask about Orwell and the receptionist is mildly surprised to find a tourist asking if this is where he stayed. She kindly offers some information on their most famous guest and encourages me to look around.

While the various political groups exchanged shots, Orwell was guarding the rooftop of a building just down the street. Occasionally, he'd dodge bullets and join his wife for dinner at the Continental. The hotel windows look out on La Rambla and surrounding streets where 'Nothing was happening except the streaming of bullets from barricades and sand-bagged (sic) windows'.

The receptionist points me to the Café Moka, now the Restaurant Moka and a block or so from the hotel. 'The pavement was covered with broken glass from the sign over the Café Moka, and two cars that were parked outside ... had been riddled with bullets and their windscreens smashed by bursting bombs'.

You can now order paella in the place held by soldiers opposed to Orwell's faction.

People stroll where, perhaps, their fathers and mothers either tried to escape, or actively joined in, the fighting.

At the top of of La Rambla, just up from the hotel, the huge Plaza de Catalunya was a 'no go' zone.

Returning to the frontline trenches, Orwell was wounded and returned to England. With Franco's triumph, Orwell’s novels were hardly recommended reading in Spain. It was only after the tyrant's death that a small Barcelona plaza was named in Orwell's honour. The plaque gives his real name and refers to his birth in Bengal and death in London.

Appropriately, there's some Orwell graffiti ...

... and in a plaza cafe, a young woman - I'd like to think a writer - has a coffee and cigarette while making notes.

If she is a writer, I wish her well (I wish her well, anyway) and hope she stops smoking. As for me, I consider visiting the Museu de L'Erotica on La Rambla, apparently quite educational, but with my Orwell perambulation, have had enough culture for the day and head back to the ship.