How I lost it in Barcelona
“You must be really careful in Barcelona,” I warned my son, en route to Madrid to study Spanish. “They are really clever, really devious. They’ll point out pigeon shit on your shoulder and pick your pocket as you turn your head…” Famous last words. We saw him off on the train to Madrid. I felt as if the umblilical cord had been cut a second time. After a few minutes pause in a little park for me to sob quietly, we set off to explore the city again. We spent an hour or two wandering round Barcelona. We checked out the winding streets of the Barrio Gothic, admired art nouveau architecture in the Eixample, and the eccentric glories of Gaudi. Everywhere were the distinctive red and gold Catalan flags, hung from windows and balconies – the vote for independence is planned for November 9th, whatever the government in Madrid says about its legitimacy. A few days after we left, September 11th, Catalonia’s national day, there were huge demonstrations in favour of independence. So it was somehow appropriate that we discovered El Born – a new cultural centre – opened in 2013 – devoted to Catalan culture and identity. It occupies an old market building, an elegant ironwork structure which was built over the ruins of a central neighbourhood of Barcelona destroyed in the terrible 15 month siege of 1714. It was September 11th 1714 when the Catalans finally lost their independence to Philip V, and the Bourbons, and that date is remembered as their last brave act of resistance. Their language, customs and political constitution were abolished and 20% of the city was razed to the ground- people were obliged to pull down their own houses- and a great citadel was built to subdue them. Thus was a prosperous, sophisticated and powerful city – considered, at least by the Catalans themselves, to be the nerve centre of Europe at that time. So Le Born is weighted with significance .
When the market was closed down they began to investigate the archaeological remains, a snapshot of the city in the 17th and 18th century, 11 city blocks of houses, streets and sewers. A rich cornucopia of diverse objects was unearthed , pottery, jewellery, evidence of the crafts, games, dance and music of that time. The original floor of the market building has been removed to reveal the excavated remains of the streets and houses below, diligently restored and carefully described. (In English too) A museum and bookshop is devoted to the treasures they have discovered and a celebration of Catalan history. Then we had lunch, in a small restaurant on the outskirts of the old town, our table tucked under the shade of a stone arcade. I was trying to resist looking at my phone, to check on my son’s progress- it was 37 degrees in Madrid I had noted with horror –and put my bag – a big soft brown suede sack bought years before in Figueres- firmly down. On the ground. Not as I usually would hung over my knee or clasped in my lap. Just on the ground. Half way through lunch there was a tap on my shoulder- I looked round, a young man was passing the table and just indicated to my other side- I turned, looked down… No bag. General hysterics, I glanced down the street, leapt up, glanced the other way to see the young man and his friend standing watching. I think they just shrugged. I ran off down the street, someone was yelling into a mobile phone, indicating another street. It all felt like a piece of theatre. Returning to the restaurant, the proprietor immediately offered us the lunch. Anguish. Just what I had warned my son….so I began to catalogue the contents of my large bag. No passport or carte grise, or many credit cards. I only carry what I need, Still this included my mobile, cash, a credit card or two, makeup, my notebook etc etc. We consoled ourselves with another glass of wine. Son called round about then. He was fine of course, apart from the news of my loss. Ahem. About half an hour later there was a gentle thump in the street, and something slid towards me. A plastic bag, neatly tied. I knew of course. It was my bag. More hysterics. By now most of the restaurant was participating in my drama. Everything was there except for the phone and the cash. The restaurateur said he had never heard of such a thing happening before. I mulled over this for a while. Eventually I decided that the tap on the shoulder was a trick, and they had probably got my bag while they watched me turn. But then I puzzled over why it was returned. I went through the contents, my notebook, a guide to Le Born, a Spanish phrase book . I flicked through my purse… one of the flaps displaying my press card from the British Guild of Travel Writers. Not a particularly flattering photo but one I liked, a friendly kind face, a bit, well, mumsy. I decided that the thieves must have been reminded of their mum.