October 19, 2019
The riots in Barcelona are getting to be big news, so why not update you on what’s happening here in the 10th most popular tourist destination.
First off, one of my readers told me that he only reads my blog if the headline is appealing, so why not put in a bogus headline. You know if the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada can lie and get away with it, my blog isn’t hurting anyone! (That’s a call to action about how we should handle our leaders, not a cop out by me, FWIW).
I returned to Barcelona on Wednesday. United Airlines informed me about the riots (Monday’s airport protest at BCN) and offered to change tickets at no charge, but getting to the boat was the priority. Check your insurance (car, home, boat), there is a good chance that you are not covered for acts of war, riot, insurrection, etc. So I can have my boat moving in 15 minutes if it gets bad, but only if I am already on the boat.
I landed on Wednesday and the airport was not busy at all. All services worked well and I was at the boat shortly after arrival. The big problems surrounded the throngs of tourists who gawk, stroll, gaze and otherwise make a brisk walk difficult. In other words, there was no apparent impact from the Monday (or Tuesday) riots. From there the week has been pretty easy.
The Marina warned us that Friday (yesterday) was a general strike and things might get a bit crazy, particularly with traffic. I was hesitant to go for a bike ride, but upon checking road conditions, the path North along the coast was ‘very fluid’. In reality it was almost completely empty, and so I had a nice 60km ride, found some new roads with some climbing and all was good.
The general strike was, more specifically, bringing out protestors. I took a bike/walking path along the coast for a portion of the ride. I have been on this path a few times now, but yesterday it was very, very packed with protesters. My average speed was severely hampered by children, mom’s with strollers, dogs on leashes. They were everywhere. People were wearing Caltalan flags on their shoulders, Barcelona soccer shirts, and the like.
[Notes about this photo . . . this photo was taken near the boat. The helicopter at the top was one of two covering the crowd, but it isn’t the one over the Marina. This picture shows the calm crowds late in the day, most of the families have moved on. It also has images of the troublemakers in the background, walking away from me as they moved toward the police presence, not these people in the foreground.]
All ended well, though, I headed back to the boat pretty early to ensure that I didn’t get blocked by throngs of angry mobsters.
If you have never seen a modern political protest, in a modern city, let me just say, they are generally very well organized and quite calm. Greece faced dozens during my time there although none were as big as yesterday in Barcelona and I have now watched three days of it here in Barcelona. The big problem . . . this is very selfish of me, the big problem is the damn helicopter which is positioned almost directly over my boat. And it doesn’t move until it runs out of fuel, at which point the second helicopter comes in to take its place. Oh my God I have a headache still from listening to it. (In actual distance it is about 500m to 1,000m away at about 200m vertically and between 100m and 800m over land, depending on where the crowd is and the pilot positions it. It is really, really close and impossible to talk over when outside).
The streets were shut down, the police vans and barriers were out, and the crowd has been very peaceful. I have seen thousands of families marching through the streets trying to make themselves heard by the Spanish government. It is generally all well and good.
The Evolution of a Riot
As my regular readers are aware, I see the world through a different lens. I look for reasons and causes for many things, and try to relate them to a simple, question, “why?”. I wanted to see what was going on. So (again) yesterday I went for a walk into the area of the demonstration. It was late in the day, around 5pm and I went to the intersection that was being monitored by that helicopter.
By this time, families were dispersing, people had largely spread out and things were ‘winding down’. I walked, I looked, I watched. There were a lot of tourists too, taking photos and it was all well and good.
Then something caught my eye. A half dozen youths, by a garbage bin. I didn’t catch the whole thing, but they were stuffing their shirts with cardboard, possibly making fuses for petrol bombs (couldn’t be sure on that because they were turned away and finishing their preparation). My phone came out late in their preparations so I got a single picture after their masks were on and they were walking away.
I am well aware of what was going to happen next so back to the boat. I am too old and slow to navigate a crowd of crazy anarchists.
About 90 minutes later . . . the smoke started rising.
The helicopter was still hovering above the marina at 2am, and I presume it was a long night for the police. I didn’t go back to see what kind of craziness was going on, but I am sure the news outlets will give you the full measure of it this morning.
It is worth noting that this is NOT the Catalan demonstrators that I saw. . . the vast majority of them were on their way home by 7pm.
This morning I went out to look for the outcome of that smoke. A number of areas in the city had been burned, and there was a very heavy police presence.
A number of observations:
- This was a peaceful demonstration for tens of thousands of people
- Near the end of the day, some thugs were clearly preparing to start something
- Those thugs appeared to be 15-25 years old, they were not dressed in clothing that highlighted that they were Catalan, rather they were dressed in black, covered their faces and were very well prepared
- They walked into the fray, looking for trouble.
- I didn’t see these actual people start anything, but I don’t believe it was coincidence that they were stuffing their shirts with rolled up cardboard, putting on multiple layers of clothing and preparing ‘something’ and putting them into backpacks.
- Shortly after I witnessed this, a peaceful protest turns into a riot.
Maybe another day I will write a diatribe on the reasons why globalization is failing and autocratic leaders and oligarchies are gaining power, but I won’t bore you with that for now.
Overall, Barcelona is now (Saturday morning) almost back to normal, there are throngs of people filling the streets and stores and most businesses are open. Barcelona isn’t truly burning, but a few troublemakers can certainly allow under-rated authors to produce over-stated headlines, just to get readers.
Here is a photo from the bike ride. Outside of those seeking to complicate the world, there is a lot of peace and tranquility.