‘Shortly before the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the revolutionary poet Federico García Lorca described Barcelona’s main thoroughfare as the most joyful street in the world. It was he said, “the street where all the four seasons live together. The only street I wish would never end. Rich in sounds, abundant in breeze, beautiful in its encounters, old in its blood; Rambla de Barcelona.”’ (The Observer Jonathan Watts 19.8.17)
García Lorca was murdered by Franco’s Fascists and, the following year, George Orwell witnessed fighting on La Rambla. Orwell had come to Spain to oppose Franco, not join in internecine warfare involving Republican groups.
If you’re interested in this pivotal event in Orwell’s life, it might be helpful to read my 2014 post as background and then come back:
This latest trip allows me to resume finding locations in Barcelona connected with Orwell.
The Metro station entrance in the middle of La Rambla is where Orwell describes bystanders running for shelter on May 3, 1937.
‘The bullets … were flying across the street and a crowd of panic-stricken people was rushing down the Ramblas (sic), away from the firing … In front of me the crowd was surging into the Metro station in the middle of the Ramblas (sic) to take cover’. (Homage to Catalonia George Orwell 1938)
Orwell hurried down La Rambla to this building, now a fashionable pink, then a hotel used by fellow militiamen on leave.
It’s become a library named after …
… Andreu Nin, leader of Orwell’s leftist faction, the POUM (Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista or Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification).
Orwell crossed La Rambla to the Teatro Principal that served as his group's Comité Local and was then sent to defend the POUM’s ’Executive Building’ …
… now the Hotel Rivoli Ramblas.
The writer was eventually posted to a lookout on the roof of a cinema called the Poliorama.
The observatory where he spent three days and nights, sustained by Lucky Strike cigarettes, cheese and Penguin Library books, can just be seen from the street. He describes a ‘tropical rainstorm’ (and he’d been in Burma) of gunfire.
‘I think few experiences could be more sickening, more disillusioning or, finally, more nerve-wracking then those evil days of street warfare’. (Homage to Catalonia)
Fighting petered out and revenge was taken. I find a plaque.
‘Here, on June 16, 1937, his comrades last saw Andrew Nin (1892-1937), political secretary of the POUM, fighter for socialism and freedom, victim of Stalinism. (Placed by) his comrades Barcelona June 16, 1983’
Nin was tortured and killed, likely with the assistance of the Soviet secret police. As for Orwell, he was later wounded fighting the Fascists and returned to England.
Decades later, in August, there was a terror attack in Barcelona. A van careering down La Rambla managed to kill fifteen, including a Canadian.
The van came to a halt here …
… on the Mosaico de Joan Miró, Miró among Spain’s greatest artists.
Three months later, tourists cross the mosaic, many unaware of the mass murder. Or, if not unaware, with only a vague memory of yet another outrage … and even less of events during the Spanish Civil War.
But I’ve become too gloomy and La Rambla has experienced, as García Lorca so eloquently described, far more joy than tragedy. Let’s finish with some unintended George Orwell humour and he’s a writer not known for being funny.
Orwell went to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, arguably Barcelona’s most famous building. These are pictures from my last trip.
‘I went to have a look at the cathedral - a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world … I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up …’ (Homage to Catalonia)