Bold, Beautiful, Blooming Barcelona asks: What would it mean to win?

(March 2009: First published on indymedia Ireland. Also on Indymedia BarcelonaIt’s a funny old world)

The Gracia community garden radio documentary trilogy and accompanying article Springtime in Europe and the Earths life’s cycle is in bloom again. The 3 parts of the radio documentary capture magical moments in the recent history of one of the most exciting projects in Barcelona at present, our community garden in Gracia. This article was written after a lovely Valentines weekend of much open, shared and participative activity; the highlight of which was our collective mural day in the garden. It is hoped that some of the life, current ideas, projects, tools, spaces, bargains, oddities, dreams, passions and goings on of the city and her peoples are communicated here-in.

Friday… Thinking about winning
Saturday… Painting pictures and feeling like we are winning
Sunday… Sharing passions, playing and doing, Remembering the South

The Gracia community garden radio documentary trilogy and accompanying article

1 – Entering, Breaking ground, dreams of a greener barrio
2 – Murals and kids
3 – Lauras garden tour


VIDEO : Hort de Gràcia Web:


Friday… Thinking about winning What would it mean to win?

After work, print off the Transition Handbook freely due to creative commons and begin reading. Our BCN en Transición groups are in between the “mulling” and
“setting up of steering group and designing its demise from the outset” (step 1 of the 12 steps) stages of this wonderful viral movement that has exploded in the last 2 years, thanks to the vision of Rob Hopkins and his crew in Kinsale, which might just be the answer to both climate change and peak oil. Eitherway, communities are organising and resilient communities are (re)forming, horizontal, seemingly chaotic organising is happening and dreams of less oil dependant communities are slowly becoming realities. Much that has been lost in the recent years of the “oil age” is being remembered; old skills, stories, recipes, building techniques as well as local culture and resilience and for an ever widening and diverse group in BCN, we too we are thinking positive and dreaming boldly. We envisage each already established and much celebrated barrio (neighbourhood) organising itself on the TI guidelines… The recurring themes of the book which stood out; Vision, positivity, celebration, enjoyment… as well as the idea of the “English pragmatic” idea of a clear and simple structure on top of, around, through which can be spun the chaotic and colourful web of life…

Walk down carrer (street) Urgell, alongside its recently reclaimed car lane which is now a protected 2 way bike lane and takes you right into the old town, this is a consequence of the some say “over successful” BiCiNg near free public bike rental system. Arrive down to one of my local haunts, the Moroccan café in the Barri china (the “Chinese neighbourhood”- the old red light, cheap booze, drugs and naughty bars zone from Picasso´s time), the multi cultural hugely alive city centre area of Raval. This café is the place to go for the best bocadillo (roll) in the city, let alone do they fry up the marinated Halal chicken on the grill with chopped onions and peppers thrown on, they cut the roll and pull out much of the inside to make more room for what goes in; salad, meat, chips, sauces… hhhhhmmmmm. Along with this a tasty mint tea and you’re sorted for the day. Also ideal way to catch up on world events, from the Arabic perspective, by watching Al-Jezeera, still highly emotional after recent events in Gaza, all this for a reasonable 4 Euros.

Catch up with a few friends, then down to one of the many little spaces that has done so much for the diversity that is Barcelona, with its critical takes on art, culture and politics and all the networks within networks that make it up. We went down to Riereta, the local on caller (street) Rieretta in which the amazing network KRAX are presently working out of, “KRAX investigates, connects and empowers urban creativity that responds to “cracks” in the city.” Friday night saw a small group of about 20 people came down to explore the critical theme of “What would it mean to win?” Sprawled out on cushions on the floor and with a few Xibecas (litre glass bottles of tasty BCN beer for @ E1.20) in hand we watched 2 films and after had a productive little chat;

Léxico Familiar (Retrato de John Holloway)“, de Marcelo Expósito, 28mins
“What would it mean to win?”, de Zanny Begg y Oliver Ressler, 40mins

The first film Familiar Lexicon is a close up interview in Spanish with John Holloway, about the theme he has been exploring: Changing the world without taking the power. The film raised many critical ideas about how the fight for a different world is being waged, from refusing to play “their” game, to the creation of new ways at looking at the world, new ways of communicating with each other, new spaces for experimenting and building in… The film finishes with examples from the Zapatistas in Mexico, with their creativity and boldness, as they occupy and destroy as well as empower, learn, excite and imagine another world.

The second film “What Would It Mean To Win?” was filmed on the blockades at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany in June 2007, where people did feel that they were indeed winning. The original was in English and German, and we watched a subtitled version, I think done by the KRAX network. Some of the people speaking on the film were part of the Turbulence collective, who have been thinking and talking about radical ideas, strategies etc and who brought out a free magazine prior to the G8 protests in which they posed the simple, yet absolutely critical question “What would it mean to win?”

Arising from the ideas posed and proposed in the films we talked about new spaces, new dialogues, new strategies led to a quick few words about the very quickly growing “movement” as it was called by George Monbiot that is the “climate camp” network; the thousands of people coming together to engage in critical dialogue, skill sharing, leading to a direct action against a climate criminal, last year Kingsnorth coal-burning power station. The movement has also gone viral and spread to more countries, Ireland is currently organising for their own camp this summer, and recently in Chicago; the largest act of civil disobedience to happen in the US. And more importantly people are organising in Denmark prior to COP15, which is the UN summit on climate change, it will also be 10 years since, returning again to Holloways argument, N30, the 30th of November in Seattle when organised passionate direct action shut down the WTO, as eco systems thinker Fritjof Capra called it “the day that the political landscape changed forever.”

A beer or 2 in local bar with friends and home early enough on the metro. (the city has a very good system, regular, cheap, till 2am on Friday, all night on Saturday, if your lucky you can catch the “lucky carriage” at about 4am, packed with people coming from one party off to another, singing, drinking, handstands… it’s a little bit illegal, but its fun)


Saturday… Painting pictures and feeling like we are winning

Bold, Beautiful, Blooming Barcelona on Valentines weekend

Up early enough, laze and read a bit, a quick egg and cheese tortilla (omelette) and a cup of tea up on the roof terrace called el “bosque de la esperananza” (the forest of Hope), alongside the Jamaican bar, our very own little greening the cityroof zone and hopefully soon also food production zone. Fine sights from one of the many roofs in Gracia, beyond the densely filled roof terrain is the 2000 year old inner city core of Barcelona, and beyond that still is the clear view of the “centre of the world”, the sea of the Medi-terranean, and beyond that still the horizon, that which reminds you of your own strange strange existence on this little ball flying in the heavens…

Not too much to daydream this morning, theres work to be done! Head down c/ Verdi; lots of people buzzing about, into the market, each neighbourhood still has its own food market and they are hives of life. In my one there is even a second hand book stall, you take what you want and leave a donation, granted there’s a fair bit of 1987 sport annuals and the like, but amongst them, you can find the odd gem or 2 (Umberto Eco, Henry Millar, and the like) From there into a Chinese shop to pick up a few packets of chalk for the garden, for the kids, and for the bigger kids like me, another few streets and I’m at the new 4 month old oasis on Carrer Banyoles, our local hort comunitari, or community garden for those unfamiliar with Catalan.

As you walk down the quite little street of carrer Banyoles, the first thing that hits you is the fantastic mural outside of the garden, on the wall. Its from the opening weekend 4 months back and was painted / sprayed by a couple of top level local grafitistas. Today we are having another mural painting day, this time though, it is a communitarian open participative day of learning, sharing, doing… Basically how it happened; a mural artist Kevin from NYC (New York city) who has done a bit of Muralismo in Mexico, was spending some time here in BCN, he dropped down to the garden 2 weeks back and made the proposal, it was quickly supported and this day was choosen to engage in this participative act of art which does many many things on many many levels. Audio doc 2 captures this in more detail. The theme of the mural was, more or less, Greening the city, and its structure was simply to paint basic colored forms of a city at the lower level and from that to grow plants and greenery coming from the gardens, roofs, windows… a vision of what a happier, healthier more eco effective city might look like.

People started arriving and adding their bits onto the ever growing wall… initial questions like “what size”, “what about the perspective”, “what should go here” soon eased, as the new muralistas themselves started to ease and just get into the flow of the day, I think the slowness of the action played a significant role, as little by little, people started talking to each other a bit more, well the ones that didn’t know each other previously…It unfolded as the day itself did and by evening time, and many little blobs added for windows, the city in the city, had taken on a funny creative life of its own; lots of funny, personal, details like bras, knickers, trumpets, cats, dogs, banners, kites, bikes… the painting of all these led to a feeling of deep happiness for many, this was indeed something special. During the time we talked about some of the ideas about last nights films and how this garden was in fact exactly one of those things from which things is growing. We are not playing their game, we have made our own. The garden is a space to grow food, which in itself is a huge step in a more sustainable existence, but its far more; a place to learn in, for strangers to meet, music to be enjoyed, to dream in, play chess, experiment, be alive in.

We also might have already got a world record for the biggest painted Aubergine? The side wall had 2 skulls sprayed on it, from a previous time when our solar (empty building lot with its building removed) had a squat on it, and this was artwork done in a room. The thing is that these skulls were giving one of the kids of el tribu (the tribe- the gardens alternative education group for 1 – 4 years olds) nightmares, they were also high up, 2 floor up, so creative means had to be employed. The result; the 1.2.3 whhhoooop, whereby 8 brush poles were connected together and a paint roller placed on the last one. With this one dude held the roller end after dipping it in pinky purply paint, then 1,2,3 and he flung it upward. At the same time, the dude or dudette on the other end, lifted it up and ran into the wall to roll on lines of the paint. The shades of colour were changed and with time, they got it finished, its about 10 metres wide and 6 high, it looks great and its viewable from the street when the garden door is closed. We are not actually sure if it is the worlds largest painted aubergine, if it is, great… if not, no worries, as Kev said, and I can confer: “It makes me smile as I pass by on the street”.

So as darkness rolled in, we parted our separate ways. From there I stopped off in one of my local bodegas, which are old style wine shops, where you buy directly from the large barrels of wine inside, the simple sustainable system that existed long before supermarkets and the like… On a matter of drink and economy, the difference between Ireland and Barcelona was the following; coming back with wine for a communal party in Horta sometime back, I walked with a 5 litre bottle (empty water bottle) filled with quality red wine, that’s nearly 10 pints, and it was cheaper than one pint of Guinness in some pubs at home, here you can buy a litre of wine for 1 euro! Anyway, drop into the local bodega and pick up 2 litres of wine and head on to friends apartment down by Universitat, the main part of the city university, which like the rest is under student occupation in a fight of resistance against neo liberalism and the bologna plan. In my friends apartment we talk with and play with Adrian, our friends 2 year old baby boy. It’s extraordinary the fun one can have when communicating with non language; funny faces, sounds, mimicking movements, playing the drums on the yoghurt tubs…

Then we catch the metro out to the barrio of Sants, to go to La Bahia, one of the cities many squatted social centres, this one is an ex 80´s disco bar turned into a cheap venue for artistic parts of the BCN social movements, this night it was a cabaret, I think some of the old makabra people were involved. This is a free in, bring your own booze, or buy cheap booze there and thereby assist the collective and the space directly. For a feel for the diversity in this social centre, political, artistic network with free stuff to do, you can check out the weekly calendar of events, the Info Usurpa. There are about 50 social centres in the city, and many more squatted spaces, some of which open irregularly as collective activist, social, artistic, community spaces, theres a lot of different types.

We got there late enough, just caught the tail end, had a few sups, then back on metro to Gracia to a fine old Cuban bar for a beer. Then drop into another nodal point in the Gracia barrios social network; the ateneu Rosa de Foc, (where on Thursday we screened the film the plunderabout the struggle in Ireland against shell) for a last can of Estrella (star, the main local beer from Damm) and to catch the late night tango and salsa dancing that was happening before hitting the hay after a lovely creative healthy day of living. (An Ateneu translates as a local cultural association resource space. “Rosa de Foc” is Catalan for “rose of fire”, which was what Barcelona was called during Spain’s civil war 1936-39, when it was the heart of resistance against the fascist coup led by Franco, as well as being, for a short while perhaps the best example of an anarchist revolution in action, until its bloody end in the “civil war within the civil war”, when Stalin’s communist forces quelled the revolution, George Orwell wrote much about these tragic events in his acclaimed novel Homage to Cataloniawhich he later portrayed in his later more famous book, “Animal Farm”- His story was the loose basis for the excellent film Tierra y Libertad / land and freedom byKen Loach )


Sunday… Sharing passions, playing and doing, Remembering the South

Up early and into Raval again, this time to be on time for our meeting with Mike from the Transition town network, he is responsible for bringing out the monthly Transition newsletter. Before hand I wander up to the rambla Raval where there are celebrations as it is the feast day of St Eulalia, the patron saint of the city, there was a orchestra playing on a stand and behind that was an amazing participative playful exhibition, KATAKRAK, it rocked; recylcled beds, bikes and bits of pieces turned into games of play that look like animals. The kids were really excited; it was a beautiful thing to witness.

From there we got a bite to eat in Organics, a vegetarian restaurant, Mike was over for work reasons and his daughter who is doing sculpture in the city also joined us, we had an informal chat during which Mike took notes with the intention of writing an article for the Transition newsletter about how things are going for the BCN transition group which is growing and we are taking our first steps.

Some of the things talked about

– “Barcelona”, going from a place with a bold urban history to it becoming stale, merely seeking to entice more and more weekend tourists in on planes to spend their euros, while pushing out local communities… it was hip, its now stale, BUT, it could again play a lead role for future movements of urbanism.

– How the Transition model might land very well on the structure of the city of Barcelona, with its very well established Barrio structure, each still with their communal heart, the central food market. (most being beautiful 19th century steel frame construction buildings) as well as the participative role the community plays in their barrio which is most identifiable when they have their barrio festivals, not only the celebration on the streets, but also the creation of floats, street art, music etc… everyone participates, the grannies and 4 year old kids can still be seen dancing in the streets in the wee hours…

– The urban story of Barcelona, with its violent history, its loaded meaning. The city has played a huge part in the identity of the Catalans, as different from the Spanish. In the late 1700’s, the French and Spanish teamed up to lay a siege at the city. On finally winning, they entered the walled city, evicted about a fifth of the population, razed their houses and turned the area into a huge military fort, the Ciutadella, from which to control the masses. The newly homeless made their way to the beach and about 50 years later a french engineer designed a very very tight grid iron neighbourhood for them with a strange orientation. Barcelenetta was the result, and its orientation was so that, if there was future revolts, the cannons in Ciutadella could be wheeled directly to the line of the street and shoot down… Later for the World fair the hated fortress was removed and turned into a park, the green lung of this dense grey city; Parc Ciutadella.

– How the Eixample model, the grid iron system which was born when the city walls were pulled down in the 1860´s, might be well able to take the extra layer of each block being recovered, its inside turned into a green space again, as is happening under the fantastic Pro Eixample programme, but how also, another layer could be added; eco effictiveness, green zone and roofs as food production zones, and a grey water treatment plant on site to reycyle water for the plants. If its possible to do in 1, its possible for all… Thats a lot of city, from grey to green.

– Mike asked us about the role anarchism plays, if any, in the city today. There were differing views from not much, to perhaps not so much in terms of end point of “without leaders” but definately in terms of organising, the way meetings form or round assemblies, the sense of DIY get up and just do it, the sense of local organisation… Although they lost the war, maybe the battle never ended? There are indeed some similarities between anarchism and the Transition movement; grassroots bottom up organisation, decentralised locally organised autonomous groups, horizontal open networking and organising, loose informal spontaneos assembly times, ie “open space”, direct action, the community does not sit back and expect “the powers” to solve things, they organise themselves to, as Rob puts it the Transition model is something about “Unlocking the collective genius of the community”.

– The term “transition” is a very loaded term here in Barcelona, as it was the term used when fascism ended and Democracy came into being. This happened after the death of Franco in 1975 and it was a difficult time, in many ways, like somewhat in Ireland, it touches too raw a nerve. Within the spanish Transition network there is some debate about this, but perhaps the movement might assist in coming to terms with the phraseology?

– How there is such a huge need for the Transition movement to really address the city, as Rob said “If we don’t crack the cities, then we haven’t really done that much.” Claudia participated in the recent Transition city conference in Notthingham which helps us greatly. But also, if indeed, we manage to “crack” the city of Barcelona, then that opens much avenues for the entire spanish speaking world. As part of our problem here is that the movement is very much in English speaking world, but, in saying that, we have begun translation work of both texts and videos to assist here.

– How one of the big keys and something which already is so strong here, is the idea of “partying to change things”, rather than the doom and gloom, how festivals and positive events play such a part, on that note, it was pointed out that the following week there was a party in the local garden in Gracia.

Ironically enough in terms of exploring transition culture; this barrio was first created as a food production zone for the city if and when they would be under siege. Anyway, After lunch we split, Claudia biked upto the garden in Gracia, while Mike and myself walked to St. Antoni, the Eixample area just outside raval, there we talked in greater detail about the great Pro Eixample programme. We entered and visited a fine reclaimed block and talked about the idea that with water recycling, energy harvesting and energy collection, the block could sustain much of its inhabitants in the post-oil age…If possible it would be great to test one of these blocks. We got the metro up to gracia, and again went through a different urban scale, the old indepandant town outside the city of BCN, now one of her barrios but with some fine urban plazas, passing through Placa John Lennon, we swung a corner and entered the garden. Again, as the previous day, there was much activity, Claudia had already arrived and was engaged with another English girl in the garden, who had been involved in transition and permaculture movements in the UK, turns out she remembered me from last summers climate camp, busy then catching words with people for the camp radio, both during quite times at the front line, and not so quite, when cops had entered and struck many people. Mike enjoyed seeing the garden and himself and Claudia headed away, while I stayed to paint a giant chess board on the remaining concrete area of the garden, some others in the garden joined in to help and we shared nice stories and dreams, one girl had cycled from England to Barcelona.

The painting took longer than I had expected so I was a bit late up to Can Masdeu (one of the most amazing projects in Europe, maybe even beyond; Rurban Revolution) for the talk with speakers from Latin America about how things are going there, even though it was a few hours since it started, the discussion was still in full flow, with many people eager to continue to hear more from that part of the world which is seeing such change in recent years. My two Latin American friends there found it a very exciting talk; it seems there is even more now to be learnt in Europe from Latin America, in these times of economic crisis. There I also got to meet Joseph, a student from New York, who had got in contact with us and was keen to plug into to eco things going on in BCN, he is a skater dude who has done lots of interesting work with his final year hi school class, including going to Bioneers and presenting a short film they made about local food action work in their neighbourhood.

Walking back through the trees, from nature, back into the dense urban mass of BCN, we discussed how exciting these times were, that with the crisis there is even more possibility or opportunity for radical change to happen quickly. How indeed it does feel that theBlessed Unrest that Paul Hawken is talking about is really happening and how beautiful a pleasure it is to participate in things. We metroed back into Gracia, went to local bodega for another cheap glass of wine and chilled out with some nice old 50s, early 60s rock and roll, happy, content, energized and buzzed up to what the future holds in store.


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