I feel like someone’s dad at a Justin Bieber concert.
The protestors, in skinny jeans, Nikes and black hoodies, mostly appear to be around twenty.
It’s getting late – almost 11 PM.
Soon, we’ll all be snuggled up in bed with a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate.
But for now, the kids have decided to start throwing bottles at the vans full of police. The smoke from the burning barricades is thick in the air as a dozen vans speed through the intersection at Arc de Triomf.
The glass flies, some broken shards hitting me in the legs as I walk past, trying to get home.
Interesting times here in Barcelona.
How was your Wednesday?
A Day in the Life: Barcelona Protests Edition
I’d been going back and forth on whether to write this or not.
It’s sort of a controversial topic.
(And my use of the words “sort of” here is a bit of understated anglosaxon irony, in case you were wondering.)
Anyway, after going out to see the riots on the streets of Barcelona last night, I felt like I should talk about it.
Let’s leave my personal opinions out of this one: I’m just one guy, after all, who decided to take a walk.
The Catalan Independence referendum and the sentencing of the politicians who organized it are big topics. And not for today.
So. Ready to hit the streets?
Via Laietana, just a couple blocks from home, is mostly closed already.
Police cars block the intersections, but there don’t appear to be many protestors around.
The Starbucks is doing a brisk business.
Passeig de Gracia is also blocked by police.
There are a few signs of last night’s riots around, too. Burnt asphalt. Street lights that seem to have melted.
Teenagers dressed in black are gathered, sitting on sidewalks or walking in groups of 5 or 10.
Still, nobody seems to be protesting.
It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Oh look, here’s a bar.
One beer – actually, two beers – later, Passeig de Gracia is back open.
Word on Twitter has it that the action is over on Gran Via, about 20 minutes’ walk from here.
There are lots of people – thousands, I guess – on Gran Via. A few are waving flags, but mostly, they’re throwing toilet paper.
Rolls and rolls of toilet paper.
It’s flying through the air, draped from trees and traffic lights.
When the police helicopter flies over, everyone shouts together, defiantly. Some put their hands up, giving the chopper two middle fingers.
We can see a couple of the towers of Sagrada Familia up in the distance.
The corner shop here on Carrer de la Marina is having its best night ever, selling both Catalan flags and beer to thousands.
A Pakistani street vendor tries to sell me a Catalan flag of my own.
I’m glad they’re making the most of the situation: lately the police have been cracking down on “venta ilegal” and it’s mostly impossible for them to work.
In any case, I’m not interested in buying flags.
“Good price!” he says. “Ten euros!”
When I turn away he says, “Okay, okay… five euros!”
After a brief bathroom break, I rejoin the protest on Carrer de la Diputació.
They’re moving fast.
Blue lights on police vans flicker a few blocks ahead.
The smell of burning paper reaches my nose.
My Catalan’s not great, and I don’t understand a lot of what they’re chanting.
But this one I do: “Fora… las forces… de invasió!”
In any case, a lot of people seem to be leaving.
It’s dinner time, after all.
I’m not sure what’s going on.
At certain times, groups of people will just break off the main protest and run in the opposite direction.
Booing the police as they leave.
Two loud bangs.
For about 10 seconds, the whole crowd starts moving the other way.
I take shelter in the doorway of some new age book shop where every book seems to be written by the same guy. Some sort of Bulgarian mystic, it would appear.
Then the crowd stops, and moves back to where they were before.
Some people in orange “Press” vests try to break through to the front of the crowd, and I decide to follow.
In a minute, I’m at the front of the protest, facing the police directly.
The smoke is getting thicker.
The kids are wearing face masks and helmets.
I’m standing in another doorway watching things unfold when an older Catalan guy comes out.
“Mare de deu!” he says.
He walks off, dodging police and protestors, in a hurry to get somewhere. On other nights, this is a normal neighborhood full of normal people leading normal lives.
Not tonight, though.
A middle-aged woman sees me scribbling on my notepad and comes up to me.
“You are periodist?” she asks. She means “journalist”.
(Actually, I’m not. Just some guy taking a walk, remember?)
Anyway, I ask her how she feels about the whole thing.
“I don’t know why the police are here… We are peaceful people!”
Some shirtless “protest bros” seem to be running this thing, and turn everyone back from the police barricade.
Suddenly, everyone is retreating.
Some police come up with riot shields and sticks to drive about 40 teenagers out of the foyer of an apartment building across the street. The kids all go running, hands in the air.
The police just watch them run.
The protestors have set up some burning trash bins in the intersection, and they’re headed back towards the police barricade.
Well, not exactly burning. Smoking.
A fire truck shows up.
The anarchists – if that’s what they are – quickly move the smoking bins out of the way to let them through…
And the crowd starts applauding the firefighters.
(I’d read about this on Twitter and hadn’t believed it. But it appears to be true. Booing the police and applauding the firefighters in the space of 5 minutes.)
The firetruck goes by with the firemen waving to the crowd out the window.
Thirty seconds later, the kids are rebuilding their barricade, adding more smoking bins to the mix.
I’m done with this and heading home, but it turns out the burning bins are all over the neighborhood.
And these bins are really burning. Head-high flames in every intersection.
I guess I was just seeing a small part of the action, up on Diputació.
Anyway, I make my way back towards Barceloneta.
In front of me, a girl finds a whole roll of toilet paper on the sidewalk.
“¡Mira!” she tells her friend, excitedly.
She picks it up, presumably to take home.
Just up from Arc de Triomf, they’re setting fire to new barricades made from the tables and chairs from the terrazas at the nearby restaurants.
And here we are, back at the beginning of this article.
It’s all pretty surreal.
Flying glass, speeding vans. Flames. Smoke.
I get hit by some glass, but the police vans get it much worse.
I’ve had about enough protests for one day.
Luckily, down in the Born neighborhood, everything is normal. People are sitting around eating ice-cream. Having drinks with friends. Typical Wednesday in Barcelona.
And soon, I’m at home, snuggled up with a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate.
Everything in this narrative is completely true, except for the hot chocolate.
(Nothing against ColaCao specifically, I just don’t like sugary drinks.)
And since my opinion about Catalan independence matters to absolutely no-one, I’m not going to talk about it here.
I do remember, in any case, what it’s like to be 20 years old, with nothing much going on in my life and a whole lot of unchanneled emotion in my veins.
All the hormonal rage of youth.
When you’re that young, it seems logical that everything is adults’ fault.
They’ve been telling you what to do since the day you were born, after all. Your own sense of responsibility for your own shit has yet to develop.
As a result, you lash out against the “establishment”.
Why not? Hasn’t it always been that way?
Anyway, I hope that you, gentle reader, are having a good week out there, in internet land.
I guess these protests will probably continue, at least for a few more days.
After that, we’ll see.
But you should probably check El País in English or something for further updates. It might be a while before I feel like touching this topic again.
P.S. Re-reading this, I should have put more emphasis on the toilet paper. There was just so much toilet paper. Also, in that article in El País I just linked to, it says that things got even heavier after I went home. Burnt cars, acid thrown at police. Stuff like that. Anyway, I didn’t see that bit.