Barcelona by Barcelona
An introduction to this series can be read in the opening remarks of this Medium story.
Spotlight 3: Àngel
At L’Ascensor you will find imbibers from all walks of life. For years, I’ve gone to see Àngel after a long night out drinking with friends. It happens right at that point when you decide biking home safely is an uncertain matter, but one more drink, nay, a whisky, is a good idea. And at the point when our words are caught up in slow-motion slur, Àngel waxes rapid rants to keep the momentum. He has seen us at our worst, into the wee hours of the morning. But Àngel, he just seems to get better and better as the night drags on.
The bar is indignantly not glamorous. It’s full of velvet chairs and wooden benches that don’t go together at all. The wallpaper could have been anything; it’s impossible to tell now because a thick veneer of smoke pastes cloudy stains atop where designs once were. The lighting is dim enough so that all other signs of aging and soiling are hidden. Well, that, and the state of unobservant borracho that Àngel’s customers usually are when they arrive.
If I’m being honest, most of the time I don’t understand a thing. Only recently have I started to make sense of his thick Catalan accent and deep guttural voice. But no matter, his enthusiastic pontifications and wild gesticulations are entertaining enough.
In fact, Àngel wins the prize for the longest interview in the series. The others clocked in around 5 minutes; he at an impressive 20. The team and I have edited it down and tried to maintain the best of it, but really, Àngel’s spirit is best enjoyed with a spirit in hand at his bar.
Where are you from?
I’m from Barcelona. My parents lived in what is now the Raval — before was the Chinese neighborhood — on San Clemente Street. When I was 4, they set up a fruit and vegetable shop in Sarrià. When I turned 9, my father changed businesses and got into a line of automobile work and we moved to the Eixample. There I spent my childhood and adolescence and it’s where I go back often still. When I was 27, I met the woman who now is my wife, and since then we’ve lived in Sant Gervasi.
How long have you been working here?
I got this bar [L’Ascensor] when I was 24, and started working at 25. I’ve been doing this now for 36 years. But I’ve had this bar in between others. I had one bar in Esplugues, and later created a business with a partner that was dedicated to managing music. I worked as a producer for Cabra, a company that has worked with many Catalan artists. After that, I got my second bar on Fusina Street, a place that’s now called Rendez-Vous. From 1999 to 2005, I took over the management at the Pipa Club in Plaça Reial.
And why this type of work?
I saw my dad suffer a lot from people who didn’t pay him. I like people a lot and the bar was cash-only. When I came here, I fell in love with the space and my dad had left me some money. So I took over this bar without any fucking clue how to run it. None. I didn’t know anything. If I knew, I wouldn’t have done it. But it was already too late; I felt obligated because my dad had already left me the money. I didn’t like the kind of work because the night world was pretty dangerous, much more than it is now. Then it was the kids more than anything, but now the bar is older and the people are more educated. But in those days I didn’t like the work but knew I couldn’t throw away what I’d invested in.
Once you know the business, you know what to do. Always, in whatever kind of work you have, there are things that you don’t like. Few people can live with as much passion for their work as I can.
What do you like the most and least in your work?
What I like most are the nice, educated, well-mannered people — there are many. And what I like least are the bad ones that turn your stomach — there are few. This kind of work has a lot of nice people, it’s a kind of work that you can go to have some culture, if you listen, are attentive, and have the capacity. The majority of people feed me so I can eat, but there are others, the few, that don’t have much money but they feed my soul. This is the best part of my work.
The worst is being faced with the mafia, whether institutional or not. These are the bad kind of people, mean and uneducated. They give you headaches, they make you sick, and the mafias, well you have to dodge them because they’re dangerous, and that’s it.
What’s the tradition or party in Spain or Catalunya that you like the most?
Of the Catalan traditions, I like Els Castellers very much. They are very original and have merit, and it all depends on human strength, and they aren’t even paid.
The party that I like most in Catalunya is La Patum, although I consider Catalunya very light when it comes to parties. In Spain there are many more; they have Las San Fermines [in Pamplona], Las Fallas [in Valencia], La Feria de Abril [in Sevilla]. But I like… or I liked, because now I’m too old, the parties in the small towns. They are very wild but noble.
What is your favorite place in the city?
My heart is divided because I live in Sant Gervasi and work in the Ciutat Vella. I have been in love with Ciutat Vella all my life, but the flood of tourism has let me down. I’ve always seen foreigners in my city but this thing with the umbrellas and 200 people following behind, it makes me sick because I feel that a part of my identity has been lost.
Now I like Barcelona more during the winter than the summer because it’s less crowded. I think that there are two types of tourism: the travelers, who are now the minority, and the tourists, with their sandals, socks, cameras, and hats, always in an organized group.
When I was 20, the streets at night and the streets Sunday morning in Barri Gòtic were marvelous. There were many years that I said I wasn’t Catalan, nor Spanish, nor European; I was from Barcelona.
I like that still there are things for me to discover in this city. Never had I gone inside the Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts (Academy of Sciences and Arts) until last week, for example. I still like some plazas where I can smoke a cigar alone at 9 in the evening. And I have my little corners that I can show my friends where the tourists don’t come.
In a city overrun with gawking sightseers, there are still a few places to find calm. Here are three solitary corners.
Within the walls of el Cementerio Viejo, you will find a nonlinear spattering of Barcelona history. It is the oldest public cemetery in the city, built to address the unsanitary overflow of deceased in the 1700s. Today you can walk among walls of gravestone grids that are organized not chronologically but by the order in which plots were sold. This makes for a cacophony of typographic genres and stone hues. Still-lifes of memorabilia decorate tumbas, with picture frames and silk flowers and yellowed letters. It’s a pathway through history, for wandering minds to contemplate life past and life beyond.
El Parc del Laberint d’Horta is off the beaten barrios in town, and for this its grounds are tranquil and people sparse. Built in the late 1700s, the park is divided into two parts: the neoclassical garden and the romantic garden. All around the park there are numerous sculptures of Greek mythology, along with fountains, springs, and pools. On the lower terrace is the giant maze of cypress hedges that gives the park its name. If you manage to make it to the center, a statue of Eros will be waiting to greet you.
If you’ve had enough of 18th century architecture, head to el Parque del Fòrum. The park was constructed in 2004 for a 141-day international event organized by the city council. While the event’s success is questionable and claims of corruption were many, today the park remains an interesting place to spend the afternoon. Set on the northern seaside edge of city limits, it is a sprawl of cement patterns and hills divided into various plazas. Occasionally there are events here, but otherwise there is a calm eeriness floating amongst its 13 acres of abundant space.
Thread of a tangent: Àngel won’t share his hidden corners with you but I’ll share mine.
Katie Barcelona is a graphic designer and wanna-be writer living in Barcelona. And yes, Barcelona is her real last name and yes, it’s just a weird coincidence that she’s living in Barcelona.