CIEE Barcelona Program: Advanced Liberal Arts
Semester: Fall 2010
Home School: Eckerd College
So the Pope made an appearance in Barcelona today- I did not go to see him. Not because I have a problem with his visit, but because I have a problem with giant crowds of people. I did however have the privilege of seeing a demonstration in Plaça Catalunya, with black star-trooper police squads and detained activists and everything. The police uniform fascinates me. It looks like they got geared up to go play baseball on the moon or something. They had knee pads that looked like a catcher's gear and cool helmets that looked exactly like those helmets for the lego-men I used to play with when I was little.
The demonstrators were holding signs that said things like "Jo no t'espero" (I'm not awaiting you) -all against the visit of the Pope. One of the signs read, "Abortion, no, pedofilia, yes."
They started chanting from time to time- I couldn't make out everything they were saying, but one of the chants was "Libertad, expresión, policía NO!" (freedom, expression, not police). One of the demonstrators had a toddler on his shoulders, who was chanting along with his parents happily and wearing a shirt with an anarchist symbol on it. You just don't see this stuff very often in America. I feel like it's pretty normal here- not that everyone is radical, or wants to demonstrate, just that they CAN.
Photo from El Periodico: Source
It's the same idea in other contexts here. For example, in one of my english conversation groups, I made up role-play situations so they could act them out in english. One situation was "A naked man is fishing in one of the fountains at Plaça Catalunya. A police officer is trying to arrest him but having some difficulty." When the two students started acting it out, the one playing the police officer said immediately "well, it's legal to be naked, so that isn't a problem, but you can't fish in the fountain!" and the whole skit went on to be about how FISHING was the shocking act in such situation. I was very surprised. The nudity wasn't even an issue.
The other day at the beach, as I was showing my friend from Eckerd around, a man came running by completely naked, chasing after a soccer ball. I tried to explain that although this isn't completely normal behavior for Barcelona, it's not looked down upon/seen as vulgar the way it would be in the U.S. The man was clearly doing it to make a point, not because he was deranged or anything. What I've come to notice here is that people take freedoms very seriously. I don't know if it's a residual effect from post-Franco times... I would imagine so... but it's interesting how key of a role it plays in every day life. So the way people seem to view, for example-public nudity-is not necessarily that everyone SHOULD go naked all the time, but that no one should be able to say they CAN'T.
It's not that everyone wants to be politically radical and leftist and activist, but there's more of an understanding here than in the U.S that if people want to act that way, they should have the freedom to do so (as long as it isn't hurting others.) The police I have seen at the demonstrations here have never seemed aggressive or actively trying to stop demonstrators- they just stand there watching, or to indicate that people shouldn't pass a certain zone. I don't know, it's just what I've seen, but it feels like a different attitude towards government and liberties.
On a lighter note, I had a fun day studying neuropsych, eating castanyas, and having a beer with friends from Eckerd before they left this evening for Sevilla/Granada. Pictured is a photo of castanyas (roasted chestnuts) which were sold inside of cones of-not newspaper-but magazine. My friend and I paid for our coffee/tea at the bar we studied at in all small change-mostly 5, 2, and 1 cent coins. We had spent the past hour talking about complicated neuropsychology concepts and evaluations, and it took us 20 minutes of recounting small change and summing up numbers on paper before we felt certain enough to leave the bar. I'm pretty sure the barista was skeptical of our intelligence levels.