Saturday, 31 March 2007

This afternoon I changed the sub title to this blog. It originally read "Zen and the art of air raid shelter maintenance in Spain". A reference to the twelve long years it's taken to get to this point and some of the things that have happened on the way.

Tomorrow, Sunday, the refurbished shelter will be opened to the public as a permanent museum space for the city. A place for remembering and, perhaps, for thinking about war and why we are unable to eradicate this malignancy from our times.

Those words were insensitive. I remembered the children, Manel and Dolores, who had died in the shelter. I thought of Mohamed, who died in the crossfire on my TV screen. And Rachel, braver than all of us.

How dare we not do more to prevent the killing?


I bought a torch but the book proved more difficult.

Collateral damage was obviously not a priority for historians.

It never has been.

There were no books about ARP in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.

The camera was provided by Mariana.

Lovely, bright Mariana. Daughter of one of the 30,000 "desaparecidos" assassinated in Argentina in the 70s.

By the Generals.


Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Children

The next day, an initial look through the gap into the entrance to the shelter revealed a blackened, brick-lined tunnel. At that point I didn´t have a torch or a camera and I did not climb inside. I was thinking of buying a book. I am not brave.

But of course Spanish children are.

That weekend, from my balcony I saw three little boys in the park. They were playing with bangers. Spanish people love bangers, especially those that sound like nuclear explosions.

Or are those quiet?

To increase effect, the boys started throwing the bangers inside the tunnel.

"Stop!" I shouted, thinking of gas.

They waved and went inside.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Bodega Argentino 1995

The owner wouldn´t let me take her photo.

Tall, imposing, blonde. I should have realized the headscarf she had
taken to wearing meant cancer and she died some months after. The
bodega has been closed since then.

These wonderful places, with the rich, sour smell of wines and sherry and sweet moscatel, where you went to buy wine on tap from the barrels that line the walls, are disappearing in post Olympic Barcelona. The city is bent on projecting itself into some strange, cold, post-modern future.

There is no room for the small, old, working class things.

They prefer Starbucks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The Fire

Colour supplement 1930

I kept meaning to ask someone about the tunnel.

One evening on the way downstairs with the rubbish, my flat is on the 7th floor (no lift) (no fire escape), there was a distinct and slightly worrying smell of burning. Neighbours' doors were all closed and intact but out in the street smoke was gathering above the park. Where was it coming from? The trees (a local pyromaniac was always setting fire to the trees)? An out-of-control campfire built by the homeless who sometimes spent the night in the park ?

The tunnel.

Smoke was billowing from the tunnel. I´m not in the habit of carrying a purse to take down the rubbish and you have to pay to call the Fire Brigade so I went into the old Bodega opposite the park to ask to call from there. "Certainly not." said the owner. "I'm not wasting my good money on that lot in the Council" (parks are municipal property). Not quite the respectful attitude one would desire.

I hint that an accumulated gas explosion might affect the wine barrels, not to say her, but she still refused. I turned to leave. "Anyway, it´s just that old air raid shelter from the Civil War."

I turn back. "An air raid shelter?"

"Yes. From when they bombed Barcelona in the Civil War"

"They bombed Barcelona?"

She was beginning to get irritated.

"Yes, one of the old air raid shelters. It´s not worth anything. There were lots round here."

Now most people know about Guernika. But Barcelona?

Two or three solitary men along the bar are nodding in agreement. Civic duty forgotten, I try to get more information. People, even now, are often reluctant to talk about the Civil War. They are just starting to put street names to the 'lots round here': "There was one in Rosal." "Yes and another under the square." "All over Barcelona, they were." when we hear the fire-engines approaching (presumably summoned by some more respectful neighbour) and all go outside.

The fire was just accumulated rubbish and old clothes set alight, intentionally or not, in the entrance to the tunnel and was soon extinguished. But conversation had been diverted from the war and the owner of the Bodega had decided it was time to close.

I´m left with desire to find out more

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Early Crowd Control

Atlas de Barcelona

Older neighbours had sometimes hinted darkly of labyrinths of secret tunnels that riddle the mountain. Montjuïc is now best known for the '92 Olympics, but for centuries the castle of Montjuic, seat of the Military, was a symbol of repression.

The Catalans have always demonstrated that most healthy, if revolutionary, of desires to rule themselves. This has not been conducive to cordial relations with the central government in Madrid.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Accidents At Work. Incidents Rate

ESAW. Eurostat.

Guess which bit is Spain.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Spain Leads Europe

That Spring they began the demolition of a building on the other side of the road.

Not a sight for the apprehensive.

On the roof the demolition gang (no safety harnesses, not even hardhats) began to bring down the walls.

By hand.

Mallets swinging, they smashed out the bricks quite literally from under their own feet.

They laughed when I worried.

The Spanish Macho is fearless and strong.

The Spanish incidence of mortality on construction sites is one of the worst in Europe.

Mainly, of course, because many Spanish Construction Companies cut costs at the expense of worker safety.

The Entrance to the Tunnel

Demolition was completed without incident. But there, where the mountain sloped down to what had been the back yard of the building, the entrance to a tunnel was now visible.


Thursday, 22 March 2007

Spring 1995. History Repeating

That year, 1995, was the last of the war in the Balkans.

It was sunny that morning in Sarajevo.

The sense of evil walking.
The impotence.
The abyss.

I live in Barcelona on the slopes of the park of Montjuïc.

Wild flowers and palm trees and the warm, clear Mediterranean
sunlight. A view through my window to combat the war on the screen.

Barcelona and Sarajevo. The same sun.

But different.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

20th March 2003. Conjugating truth and lies

Barcelona Graffiti.

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

George Bush. Address to the Nation March 17th

He lied.

"The people in Iraq are free and working toward a self–government. Step by step normal life in Iraq is being reborn as basic services are restored. Throughout the country schools and hospitals are being rebuilt."

Condoleezza Rice. Chicago Oct. 8th 2003

She lied.

Iraq body Count 19th March 2007

Espai Obert Barcelona 2003

Reported Civilian Deaths Resulting from
the US–led Military Intervention in

Reported Minimum: 59,326

Reported Maximu

"I ask all reasonable people to judge for themselves."

Tony Blair. 25th February 2003.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Addicted to Weapons of Mass Destruction

"Understanding the threats of our time.
Knowing the designs and deceptions."

George Bush. Oct. 2002

Barcelona March 16th, 17th, 18th 1938.

In memory of the 1000 victims.

Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time
near gardens whose shade has been cast aside
we do what prisoners do
we do what the jobless do
we sow hope.

Mahmoud Darwish.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

The Players: "El Generalissimo"

"I shall never bombard Madrid, there are innocent people
there whom I have no wish to expose to danger."

General Francisco Franco to a correspondent of
Petit Parisien. August 16th 1936.

He lied.

As dictators do.

He probably had every intention of bombing Barcelona.

And he did.

194 times.

A last public statue of the dictator (equestrian) perpetrator
of so many crimes, was finally removed from the entrance to the
Military Academy in Zaragoza in August 2006.
(Photo: El Mundo)

Friday, 16 March 2007

Barcelona March 16th 1937

Houses destroyed by the raid in Poble sec

Eight months into the civil war, at seven in the morning, Barcelona suffered its first aerial bombardment. The bombs fell in Barceloneta and in Poble sec, two working class districts of the city and left seven dead. During the first months of the war little had been done to protect civilians from this insidious new form of warfare. But the destruction and bloodshed caused by this first raid, and by a naval attack the previous month in which seventeen people had died, spurrred the city into action. A massive construction of underground air raid shelters began.

By the end of the war there were over 1000.

This is the story of one of them.